The latest Indian general election, held earlier this year over the course of 5 weeks, yielded a win for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It catapulted the once controversial leader Narendra Modi, into the role of Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. Modi was Chief Minister of the state of Gujerat in 2002 when thousands of Muslim residents were massacred in reprisal killings under his watch. But now, Prime Minister Modi, who had been denied a US visa some years ago, was welcomed like a super star in his first state-side visit. Americans of Indian origin thronged to see him in Madison Square Garden, embracing his promises of a better future for all Indians. In India too, Mr. Modi has received adulation from the press and many sectors of society.
Not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid however. My guest, Palagummi Sainath – or simply P. Sainath as he is known – is one of the most important Indian journalists alive today. He was just awarded the World Media Summit award this month for his reporting on poverty and rural Indian communities – one of many accolades that include the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.
For years, Mr. Sainath wrote for The Hindu, one of India’s leading English-language daily newspapers. His book is entitled, “Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts.” His reporting has focused on the epidemic of farmer suicides in India, as well as the so-called “Pay-to-Print” scandal of corruption in corporate-owned Indian media. He recently started the People’s Archive of Rural India and was in Los Angeles last week on a rare visit when I interviewed him for this program.
On a personal note meeting Mr. Sainath a momentous occasion for me, as he knew very well my own grandfather, S. Y. Kolhatkar, a prominent activist in India’s independence movement, who was once the head of a major journalists’ trade union. Sainath would have been an extraordinarily young man when he knew my grandfather – a testament to the life-long career he has had.