21-27 March 2014 #699

Citizen journalists in the citizen party

India’s Aam Aadmi Party fields seven journalists in April’s elections
Ajaz Ashraf
As India’s elections draws nearer, there is a scramble among journalists to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but what is prompting them to plunge into politics?

You could say they wish to acquire power, enticed to it because they have glimpsed over years of reporting the privileges the political class enjoys. Or, maybe, the choice of AAP represents a desperate gamble to find an alternative to employment in the media. Or you could accept that they are idealistic and want to reform the system.

But one thing is sure, you cannot accuse the journalists who have joined AAP of being ‘insiders’, the term used to describe those who wield power inside the Ring Road of the Indian capital. Indeed, the new breed of journalists joining the AAP is different from the older generation of hacks-turned-politicians like MJ Akbar, Rajeev Shukla, Pritish Nandy, Chandan Mitra.

Akbar, for instance, became an editor in his early twenties, scaling the pinnacle of glory and fame through his successful launch of The Telegraph from Calcutta. The Congress under Rajiv Gandhi fielded Akbar in the 1989 general elections as the modern face of Muslims. He won, but the assassination of his mentor in 1991 saw the old guard shove him off centre stage, from where he hurtled back into journalism, unable to regain his famed touch.

Unlike Akbar, Rajeev Shukla was never the paragon of professionalism, but quite the envy of those wishing to be networked into Lutyens’ Delhi. His talent for negotiating with the political class was evident during the Rajya Sabha election of 2000: he bagged the maximum number of votes in UP even though no national or regional party had endorsed his candidature.

Pritish Nandy bridged the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of poetry and politics through his valiant effort to inject modernity into the staid Illustrated Weekly of India. The magazine was shuttered, but Nandy subsequently shuttled his way into the Rajya Sabha courtesy the Shiv Sena. BJP was the vehicle Chandan Mitra rode to the Rajya Sabha, too, and now is the owner-editor of The Pioneer.

The seven journalists who got the AAP’s tickets are a different breed. Though AAP calls Rajmohan Gandhi a journalist, he is better slotted in the category of scholars. Despite being Gandhi’s grandson, he isn’t your typical insider. When did you first hear of Jarnail Singh? Right, when he flung a shoe at Union minister P Chidambaram in protest against his reply over the anti-Sikh 1984 cases.

Mukul Tripathi? He came into limelight only two years ago, through his allegation against Salman Khurshid that he had siphoned off funds earmarked for the handicapped. Who in Delhi had heard of Manorom Gogoi, deputy editor in the Assamese channel DY 365? These four aren’t even satellites orbiting around Delhi’s power centre.

Once upon a time, Anita Pratap could have boasted a hotline to the resplendent residents of Lutyens’ Delhi, not the least because she had been the correspondent of Time magazine for nearly eight years. But she had been largely forgotten in Delhi. Many didn’t even know she was still in India.?

Ashish Khetan is more a name in journalism than outside it, having won plaudits for his sting operations. His journalism has been edgy, and he has been trying to kick-start his website, an option journalists are likely to consider increasingly in a professional ambience in which the freedom of expression belongs to media-owners, not the hack, and where the revenue is shrinking rapidly. They are all outsiders, citizen journalists of a citizen party.

Activists and journalists have a symbiotic relationship – the former require the media to focus on issues they are campaigning on, the latter see them as sources for stories. This is precisely why the early nucleus of the AAP consisted of journalists Manish Sisodia and Shazia Ilmi.

But this tradition isn’t new to the country. India’s anti-colonial struggle saw Tilak, Gandhi, Azad, et al employ journalism as a vehicle to broaden and deepen the national movement. India’s first parliament had 45 members classified as writer-journalists, the second saw the figure rise to 50. Then cynicism and pessimism set in: the fourth Lok Sabha had only 24 people in this category, plummeting to only eight in the last one.

So will the 2014 election lead to a renaissance of journalism and politics? Ah well, they must first get elected for that.

ashrafajaz3@gmail.com

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