To quote Peter Griffin, pitashri in the animated sitcom, Family Guy, I am cursed with optimism. My optimism stems from the recent event of the op-ed still having the power to draw blood. At least in markets where they still take politicians and ministers writing op-eds seriously. Perhaps, a tad too seriously enough for their bosses to give these ministerial writers the sack.
For those who were incapacitated by filthy air or filthier lucre this Diwali, a short recap. Suella Braverman, British home secretary, had her op-ed published in The Times, London (no relation to this paper) on November 8. She had essentially written that the police were generally being ‘good cop’ with pro-Palestinian agitators in Britain, while being ‘bad cop’ with those coming out in support of Israel and against Hamas’ terrorist attacks. I have my own opinion on Braverman’s opinions. But I’m not going to share that with you here.
My optimism stems from what happened after the piece came out earlier last Monday: Braverman getting fired by her boss, PM Rishi Sunak. A year ago, she had been sacked by a different PM – of the same country, where a now-forgotten character by the name of Liz Truss, pulled the plug on her for sending an official document from her personal email to a fellow MP. Or what we call here, a ‘Mohua Mitra transgression’.
This time around, the Ashish Nehra-lookalike sacked her for writing an op-ed that mentioned ‘a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters’. While the British media talked about the polarisation in woke vs ‘sleep Carolean UK, India ran the kerfuffle more on the lines of ‘Brown boy vs Brown girl’ BBC reboot of ‘Yes Minister’ with a ‘No Minister’ twist.
But what jumped out for me was the refrain in the newspapers of how 10 Downing Street had ‘not approved’, ‘not cleared’, the ‘unauthorised’ comments made by the muscular strength-admiring home minister. Imagine Braverman’s Indian counterpart writing an op-ed here having to pass through the same protocol hoop!Op-eds here, written by politicians freely, without any censorial gaze, tend to be in sync with the party line. People here join a party because their opinions absolutely align – unless your name is Mani Shankar Aiyar or Subramanian Swamy. One can be sure that if there are any departures here from said official line, they are read with the kind of sanguine equanimity that readers of op-eds in a mature democracy are equipped with.In other words, these pieces are read the way a weather forecast is read the day after the weather has already happened: for dull but reassuring confirmation – not, as has been this case evident in Britain, a show of loyalty or otherwise to his or her ‘club’.
The op-ed – short for ‘opposite the editorial page’, but which has also come to mean ‘next to the editorials’ (that tell the reader the publication’s views) – is supposed to be a short newspaper column that represents ‘the strong, informed, and focused opinion of a writer on an issue of relevance to a targeted audience’. Not the publication’s, not the organisation’s to which the writer belongs or is affiliated with, but of the writer.
Hence, the non-requirement in most civilised publications to have the proviso at the end of the op-ed, ‘Views are personal’. That the views are personal is taken for granted.
In Braverman’s country though, such a claimer – a disclaimer being, ‘Views are not shared by the British government’ – now seems necessary for those over-sensitive lot.
But with this incident, people have been reacquainted with the op-ed, and its capacity to ruffle, indeed molest, feathers. To the point of being sent to the Tower of London where the only feathers to ruffle are those of ravens. As a result of this stark reminder, politicians and ministers here may fervently hope that their op-eds, if not cleared by their boss(es), don’t entertain views that may be considered being divergent from their bosses. Not too divergent anyway. May our politicians and ministers keep op-eding without fear or favour.