Journalists in Political Mainstream in India!

Arun Shourie first, MJ Akbar next in BJP, Anita Pratap to Contest on AAP ticket in Kerala

Journalists nurturing political and ministerial ambitions is nothing new in India! And why not! People from the intelligentsia must be encouraged to join the political mainstream to save the country from political scums who have ripped the country apart! Provided of course they are also out there to feather their own nests and benefit from the political mayhem!

Arun Shourie was perhaps the most high-profile journalist to enter politics and become a Union Minister in the BJP government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. He held the portfolio of Minister of Disinvestment, Communication and Information Technology during 1998-2004.

There could not have been a better choice given that he was an economist (having served the World Bank) before he became a journalist and crusader against governmental corruption as Editor of Indian Express.

After the BJP’s loss in the 2009 parliamentary elections, Shourie faded from the political limelight and became less vocal, less strident.

A more popular leader from the media was late Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena who started his career as a cartoonist with the Free Press Journal in Mumbai.

Newstime Training: Last week, another top journalist, MJ Akbar, threw his weight behind the BJP and may well become a Cabinet minister should the party come to power.

Akbar was one of the senior editors brought in to provide training for the first batch of journalists at Newstime in Hyderabad about three decades ago. That was my first job and I found one of his remarks then gruffly and not palatable.

Distasteful Remark: “If the prime minister of a nation dies which fool sitting here will not make it the lead story,” he had thundered when talking about news selection.

While the language was conversational, I found his choice of words distasteful. “Fool” was all right but I thought he could have avoided tagging “sitting here” with it. That will have made the class feel a little better!

I thought he was a no-nonsense guy, so the casual comment was perhaps pass! Being young (in his 30s then) and a top editor already, some arrogance is not misplaced either.

Incidentally, Khushwant Singh and Kuldip Nayar were also brought in to share their experiences with we trainee journalists (about 30 of us) along with senior political leaders like L K Advani. Ramoji Rao of the Eenadu group that launched Newstime had enormous political clout and was a big supporter of NTR’s Telugu Desam Party.

Political Chaos: In 1984, when the NTR (NT Rama Rao) government in Andhra Pradesh was dismissed and Nadendla Bhaskar Rao became the Chief Minister with the support of the Congress (I), top journalists from all over the country were in Hyderabad and the Newstime office served as the base for a few days for many, including for Shourie and Anita Pratap, former Time magazine Correspondent in India after which she was with CNN as South Asia Bureau Chief.

Incidentally, Anita Pratap has joined the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and is contesting the Lok Sabha elections in May from Ernakulam in Kerala.

I was a trainee journalist, so did not have any interaction with them. I just saw them scurrying here and there across the editorial hall.

The relentless media campaign against the assault on democracy resulted in Nadendla Bhaskar Rao losing his chief ministership within 35 days from grabbing power.

Now, when I reflect on the past, one inevitable thought is that they were all there because the enjoyed the confidence of Ramoji Rao, a business owner.

In fact, journalistic independence was hardly ever a reality in India. Most newspapers had an agenda to pursue. The Indian Express, considered an anti-establishment newspaper, was also not an exception. I had moved to IE from Newstime and it was hardly pro-journalist.

I remember while I was working for IE, Ramnath Goenka not only defied implementation of the Journalists’ Wage Board recommendations but even made us carry a front-page editorial that was a scathing attack on the media staff – we were accused of taking to the streets seeking higher pay.

This report in the Huffington Post points out, with examples, how independent coverage is not the norm even in India, which is “heralded as the promised land of journalism with more than 80,000 print publications and close to 400 news channels”.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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