Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Outlook!

Outlook, one of my favorite newsmagazines, is celebrating its 13th birthday in its latest issue, with a lead-off essay by Mukul Kesavan. Here's an excerpt where he talks about the spirit of the magazine:

... [T]he most interesting part of Outlook's persona ... is its commitment to a liberal and pluralist politics. Just as The Economist reports the world through a laissez faire lens, Outlook's sense of what's newsworthy in India is shaped by a peculiarly Indian take on secular fair play. Critics write that the magazine is politically skewed towards the Congress and against the BJP; if this is true, it's true only to the extent that the Congress conforms to the principles of a plural liberalism more closely than the BJP does or can. Is this unhealthy? Only if Outlook was the one newsmagazine on the stands.

But it isn't.There are other magazines that report the news differently, that give the State the benefit of the doubt, that try, in their reportage and their comment, to explain the logic of majoritarian politics, that report India in the language of 'realism' and realpolitik. Which leaves Outlook free to open its pages to diversity and dissent. For a newsmagazine to do a cover emblazoned with a Hindu swastika and a cover story exploring majoritarian bias, as Outlook did recently, is unusual. These first years of its life have seen the idea of a plural India contested, in office and out of it, as never before, by the Hindu right. What is remarkable is that in this uncongenial political climate, Outlook has built a large mainstream readership, thrived, and is now 13.

Vinod Mehta, Outlook's editor for all of its 13 years, reminisces about how two major scoops in the very first issue ensured a lot of free publicity.

[The first scoop was] an opinion poll in the Kashmir valley. (Organising the poll was a nightmare; insurgency was at its height. Most Kashmiri Muslims took the surveyors for IB men!) The headline on the cover was authentic and revealing: "77 per cent say no solution within Indian Constitution".

This was explosive stuff in pre-Arundhati Roy days.Back then, the notion of azadi amounted to secession, the break-up of India. It was not just anti-national, it was sedition, it was facilitating the dismantling of secular India. Not surprisingly, Mr Bal Thackeray's men began burning copies in Mumbai, demanding that I be put behind bars. The upside was that we were on the front pages of every paper. You couldn't buy that kind of publicity for love or money.

If bad luck comes in pairs, so does good fortune. [...]


  1. Anonymous said...

    Outlook had one original and interesting writer, Manu Joseph. But he left. The rest of them are under the (rather popular) illusion that being different is the same as being original, and try very, very hard to be contrarians.

    The comparison with Economist is misleading, it may share Outlook's bullheadedness, but it also has some of the most lucid and clear writing in print, particularly in science and finance. Outlook writers have the analytical ability of the average JNU-ite, which is not saying much.