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Speak truth to power, Boris Johnson tells Indian journalists

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has asked Indian journalists to speak truth to power for the sake of democracy in India and the United Kingdom.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2017 21:06 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Boris Johnson,Indian high commissioner YK Sinha,Indian Journalists Association
Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaking at the 70th anniversary event of the Indian Journalists Association in London on Tuesday.(HT Photo)

Noting the “staggering” size of the Indian news media whose titles may be more than the combined circulation of leading British newspapers, foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday called on Indian journalists to “speak truth topower”.

A former journalist who continues a popular column, Johnson was speakingat an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Indian Journalists Association, which was founded on May 29, 1947. He released a special issue titled “A Double Celebration” on the occasion.

Characteristically mixing mirth with his role in the Theresa May government, Johnson regaled the audience that included former tennis player Vijay Amritraj, LabourMP Stephen Pound,members of the House of Lords and industrialists Swraj Paul and Gopichand Hinduja.

“There are 822, 000 separate newspaper titles in India. That is more separate individual titles than there are separate individual copies of The Times, the Guardian and probably the FT sold every day in this country,” he said.

“For the sake of our democracy in both countries I hope you will keep doing what you are doing, that you will speak truth to power and let sunlight disinfect the darkest places in our countries and across the world.”

Johnson said former journalist and prime minister Winston Churchill was “spectacularly and completely” wrong when he prophesied in the 1930s that freedom for India would be a disaster; just as he was wrong about big questions of the day.

A leading Brexiteer who faced muchridicule for harping on the phrase “take back control” during the EU referendum, Johnson noted that “swaraj” was the Hindi word for “take back control”, but hastened to add amid much laughter that he “won’t push that narrative anyfurther”.

Describing Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover as a “testament to the triumph” of modern India, he said Britain is the beneficiary of what noted academic Anthony Giddens called “reverse colonialism”.According to him, India will become the world’s second richest country in less than 30 years.

“We Brits look at that in a state of admiration. Of course we want a free trade deal. Our biggest export (to India) at the moment is delegations of ministers. We must be as open as possible to talent from India, to students from India, we got to have a very proactive policy on getting the visa system right. In return, we hope there will be opening of Indian markets for goods and services.”

Indian high commissioner YK Sinha speaking at the 70th anniversary event of the Indian Journalists Association in London on Tuesday. (HT Photo)

Johnson got bad press in May when he called for India to reduce a 150% tariff on whiskey during an election meeting in a gurdwara in Bristol, but repeated the demand while hoping for a free trade deal with India after Brexit.

“I hope I will not cause undue offences if I repeat that it would be a fine thing if 150% tariff on Scotch whiskey could be reduced so that the vast numbers of Scotch whiskey drinkers in India – and I include members of my own family – can enjoy the king of whiskies, the only real authentic whiskey at a reasonable price,” he remarked (his wife Marina Wheeler is of Indian origin).

But he added that the India-UK relationship was much more than trade, whiskey and interchange of goods and services: “An incredible synchresis of ideas, people, goods and services, an ecstasy of cross-pollination and cross-fertilisation that is represented at so many levels, including cricket, tea, the bhangra beat, chicken tikka masala, but also the glorious and ever changing language of English.”

Indian high commissioner YK Sinha said the bilateral relationship had come a long way to a stage where interest in India never wanes. The two countries faced terrorism whose “fountainhead is the same”, and hoped for more cooperation at the international level, he said.

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 18:27 IST