Munich, May 29: When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told two correspondents of Der Spiegel that should his third attempt at peace with Pakistan fail, he would accept defeat and “then I retire”, little did he know that this would be taken by some to mean that he would quit politics.
“This is how the press loses credibility. This is why even serious news reports are no longer taken seriously,” said a minister accompanying the Prime Minister.
Since when had “retire” come to mean “renounce”, asked another official accompanying the delegation. He was reacting to a Hindi TV news channel apparently saying that the Vajpayee would renounce politics (take sanyas) if his peace initiative failed.
The media managers of the Prime Minister had a tough time telling journalists that the news of Vajpayee’s retirement was, to say the least, highly premature. He only meant that he would not bother to make another attempt at peace with Pakistan, they argued.
But nothing satisfied the intrepid newshounds embedded in Air-India one. A posse was quickly formed to accost Vajpayee and seek clarification while he attempted to get into his official limo at Munich’s Franz Joseph Strauss airport.
Vajpayee himself was in no mood to end silly controversies. When asked whether what he meant was that if his initiative failed he would retire from the India-Pakistan peace process, Vajpayee chuckled and mockingly said, “I had said it for myself.”
Nobody was left any the wiser. What does this mean, went the cry amongst the embeds. Nobody was too sure.
Had Vajpayee clarified his statement in the Der Spiegel or confounded the confusion further' Did he mean he would retire hurt if his peace initiative failed' Do Prime Ministers retire' When and how would one know that the third and last attempt of Vajpayee had failed' What if the peace attempt fails after Vajpayee wins the next election'
There were no clear answers.
Life after twenty-four hour news channels has clearly taken a qualitative leap forward — although into completely uncharted territory. Their enterprise — to boldly go where no newsman has gone before. There are no estimates available as yet of how many viewers were forced to retire from their television sets befuddled after the “news” of Vajpayee’s sanyas.