India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

Ravish Kumar an award winner Indian journalist. (Photo by Sanjay Kumar for Arab News)
Updated 07 October 2019

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

  • Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades

NEW DELHI: Ravish Kumar is nervous about the “danger that Indian democracy is facing today” and how “a systematic attempt is being made by the ruling establishment in Delhi to suppress all the dissenting voices in the country.

“Journalism prepares you to face the unknown everyday, so I was not really surprised when I got the call from the (Magsaysay) award committee,” Kumar said.

“The problem was that I was asked to keep it a secret until they had made a public announcement. It was painful to keep quiet for almost a month,” he told Arab News with a smile.

“When the news became public, I realized what I had been bestowed with. I feel the award is a vindication of trust in good journalism. People felt as if the award had been bestowed on them,” he added.

It is this concern for democracy and its institutions that earned Kumar the prestigious Magsaysay award for 2019.

Instituted in 1957, it is awarded every year by the Philippine government in memory of its former president Ramon Magsaysay for “integrity in governance, courageous service to the people and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

Kumar, who works as a managing editor of India’s leading bilingual TV channel, NDTV, has created a niche for himself in the world of journalism with his daily primetime show, which draws huge audiences from across India. 

At a time when most mainstream TV channels and newspapers have stopped questioning the government and challenging its narrative, Kumar’s reporting takes a critical approach to the lawmakers.

For this constant critique of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the government does not send any of its spokespersons on his show or the channel.

He laments that a large section of the Indian media has become “an extended arm of the government and the mouthpiece of the establishment.”

For his outspoken attitude, Kumar and his family have received threats from “people who are subsidized by the ruling party.”

“I don’t have any hope for the media. It is dead in the country. Just a few are holding the placard of fearless journalism,” he said, adding that “the death of independent media has affected true reporting from Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation in the region is so bad that after the abrogation of its special status, even the significant moderate voices in India have been pushed to the militant camps,” he said.

Describing the government’s policy on Kashmir as “brazen,” he questioned the “audacity of the government to hold local body elections in the valley when there is a complete lockdown.

Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades, adding that he was aghast at the Supreme Court’s silence on the abrogation.

“Why is it taking so long for the apex court to intervene on the issue of the internet lockdown in the Kashmir valley? Can you imagine the American Supreme Court behaving the way the Indian judiciary is acting on such a crucial issue?” He asked.

He said that the decline of independent institutions such as the media, judiciary and election commission is gradually creating a democratic imbalance.

Kumar understands the award has given an extra responsibility on him and that he felt “burdened with expectations.” So great are those expectations, he has not ruled out entering politics.

“Politics is a good thing. I tell everyone to join politics,” he said, adding that his current responsibility is to “warn people about the danger that is lurking in Indian society.”


North Korea’s Kim sparks fresh tension with south

Updated 24 October 2019

North Korea’s Kim sparks fresh tension with south

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the removal of South Korean-built facilities at the Mt. Kumgang resort — a rare example of inter-Korean cooperation — calling the buildings “shabby,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official news source, said on Wednesday.

Kim’s remarks will likely further test the strained relations between North and South Korea, in tandem with the stalemate over denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

“The mountain was left uncared for more than 10 years to leave a flaw, and the land is worthy of better,” Kim said. He made the comments during his inspection of the tourist spot on the east coast of North Korea.

The young dictator has ordered modern service facilities to be built in place of the “unpleasant-looking” ones constructed by the South, the agency said.

Kim even criticized his late father’s policy of depending on the South for the mountain resort, calling it a “mistaken idea.”

“Mt. Kumgang is our land won at the cost of blood and even a cliff and a tree on it are associated with our sovereignty and dignity,” he said. 

He also ordered plans to be drawn up for the development of surrounding regions as part of a master development plan for the scenic tourism resort.

He left the door open to South Koreans’ visit to the site, but stressed the North should take the lead on any tour program.

Mt. Kumgang resort opened in 1998 and was a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation following the first cross-border summit in Pyongyang between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il. The two leaders agreed to operate a joint economic zone in Kaeseong, just north of the demilitarized zone.

The inter-Korean projects saw millions of dollars channeled every year to the North Korean regime, which was desperate for cash in order to develop a nuclear arsenal.

However, the tourist resort has been closed since 2008, when a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

A series of North Korean provocations, including a 2010 attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island and the regime’s nuclear tests, have hampered the resumption of the cross-border projects.

Since Moon Jae-in became president of South Korea in 2017, his administration have placed a high priority on relations with the North. At a summit in September 2018, Moon and Kim pledged that inter-Korean business projects would restart.

The Seoul government asked the US to lift sanctions partially so that such projects — including the Mt. Kumgang resort — could be resumed, but Washington opposed the move, worrying that it would undermine the US-led international economic sanctions focused on tightening the North’s purse strings.

“This isn’t the right time, but at the right time I’d have great support,” US President Donald Trump said in April when asked about restarting tours to Mt. Kumgamg.

Observers believe Kim’s order to raze the South Korean facilities at the resort is a warning to the US that it should relax sanctions against his regime.

“This is a strong message to the US that the tourism project should be excluded from sanctions,” veteran lawmaker Rep. Park Jie-won, a four-term lawmaker who had served as chief secretary to late President Kim Dae-jung, said in a radio interview.

Park said Kim’s remarks could be related to some under-the-table trade deals with the US, citing President Trump’s recent comments on North Korea.

On Monday, Trump mentioned some potential trade deals with North Korea.

“Whether it’s North Korea, South Korea… probably, something is going to be happening with North Korea too,” he said. “There’s some very interesting information on North Korea. A lot of things are going on. And that’s going to be a major rebuild at a certain point.”

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, in charge of the South’s relationship with the North, responded cautiously to the North Korean leader’s remarks.

“We’re examining the intentions and authenticity of the remarks,” ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told reporters. “If there’s any request from the North, we’re always willing to discuss the matter based on our citizens’ property rights, the spirit of inter-Korean agreements, and efforts to facilitate the resumption of the Mt. Kumgang tourism.”

Hyundai Asan, the main operator of the Mt. Kumgang tourist site, was baffled by the North’s intention to remove its facilities, in which hundreds of millions of dollars were invested, and which include hotels, a culture center, a family reunion hall, a golf resort and more.

“We will calmly address the latest issue and seek contact with the North via the inter-Korean liaison office if necessary,” the company said in a statement.