Editor vs Editor

BY NUPUR BASU| IN Media Practice | 27/03/2014
It was vintage Rajdeep who grilled a rather uncomfortable M J Akbar, on what prompted him to join a party that most Indian Muslims fear,

Former editor M J Akbar joined the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its spokesperson last week. The former Congress MP from Kishenganj and the spokesperson of Rajiv Gandhi in the eighties, in an article in the Economic Times (ET) on Monday, argued the reasons for why he had taken the decision.

The reaction was immediate on the internet and the social media. It widely publicised a piece Akbar had written in 2002 titled Why Modi deserves Nishan- e- Pakistan, where he had dubbed Modi as “a chief minister justifying lynch mobs” during the Gujarat riots and “finding excuses for a pogrom and telling blatant lies that were broken up and exposed by reporters.”

In a scathing attack on Modi, Akbar had then written: “As if death, arson and revenge were not enough, Modi laced each day with another mental and emotional shock that pandered to the worst aspects of inhuman nature. He valued tragedy on different scales, offering what might be called a two-price theory for death: A Hindu life was worth twice the life of a Muslim.

CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai seized the opportunity to conduct an election special interview with M J Akbar. The interview showed two editors in a verbal duel that proved to be good television. It was vintage Rajdeep who grilled a rather uncomfortable M J Akbar, on what prompted him to join a party that most Indian Muslims fear.

Here is a flavour of the battle of words between a TV anchor/editor and a former editor/politician.

The interview began with Rajdeep hitting the bull’s eye: “Mr Akbar, in your article in 2002 you compared Modi to Hitler…what accounts for this flip flop now?”

Akbar had deliberately adopted a quiet, slightly patronising tone: “All of us, including you, raised these questions...answer to these questions have been given by the UPA government…the most intense scrutiny possible has been done on Modi…the most intense scrutiny to link the riots to him...”

Of course, Rajdeep wanted a more direct reply: “Are you giving him a clean chit? More than a 1000 people died in the riots in Gujarat…”

Akbar continued glibly: “There have been many many riots before that…Nellie, 1984, 1993, the riots in Bombay…we have covered riots as journalists all our life…Where has anyone been subjected to such an intense scrutiny?”

Rajdeep then lobbed the logical follow on: “Are you saying you were mistaken?”

Akbar had come prepared and was clearly willing to sacrifice his own journalistic reputation to defend his present choice to support Modi. “Yes we were mistaken in putting the personal linkages…we were wrong…we should have the grace to accept it…”

Rajdeep persisted: “Do you believe that Modi was a subject of a witchhunt…were editors like you mistaken in putting up editorials like ‘Nishan- e- Pakistan’?”

“Yes we have to accept that we have done wrong…” replied the former editor and then went on to repeat the point he had made earlier on “Congress scrutiny” etc.

But Rajdeep was clearly looking for more as he continued: “We know it is difficult to nail an individual…in riots…are you convinced that Narendra Modi was not responsible..?”

Not falling for his baits, Akbar turned introspective: “We as journalists do not have a right to claim the truth…the institutions have done everything they could…who are we to keep calling them sinners…we should have the honestly to accept it…”

The CNN-IBN editor remained determined to get an answer on what kind of journalism Akbar had practiced:  “Is all that now ‘mistaken journalism”?

Akbar then asked Rajdeep if he has read the ET piece he wrote.

“Yes, I have” replied Rajdeep curtly.

Akbar rambled on about a “National focus agenda”, “governance in Gujarat”…

When Rajdeep continued grilling him, an irritated Akbar asked: “May I have the kindness and generosity of Rajdeep Sardesai to say what I want to say...at the Pataliputra rally…during the Patna rally…the bombs targeted at people and Modi…at that moment Modi said he was clearly focussed on the agenda…he said Hindus have an option - they either keep fighting Muslims or fight poverty and vice versa..Two great communities of India have to work together for development of the nation…in ten years, Muslims have become impoverished…”

Rajdeep then touched a raw nerve: “Do you agree with RSS’s Hindutva agenda..?

Akbar remained evasive: “I am saying what I heard at the Patna rally…I heard him saying that only religion is the Constitution of India…I don’t believe that the party is with the RSS…India is a secular nation ...We must understand the discourse that is taking place today!”

Rajdeep did not relent on the RSS question so fast: “Are you saying that there is no more punbya bhoomi and pitra boomi…do you really believe the RSS has changed its Hindutva agenda…”

Then, the TV anchor asked the former print editor to do a status check: “You are making strong intellectual arguments…but many would say that BJP has to walk the talk…from 180 assembly in Gujarat…not a single Muslim person got a ticket…they have to walk the talk...concepts of elimination, politics of fear is to include…Does it trouble you that political representation for Muslims is lacking in BJP?”

Akbar indulged in semantics: “Change is an evolutionally process Rajdeep…we must look at the positive…”

The former editor then used Mahatma Gandhi as an example: “Gandhi also said ram rajya and he was called communal…I have to look at our nation at this point of our life…are we going to have eyes at the back of our head or in the front of our heads…this is the opportunity for us…there must be development for everyone..”

Now, Rajdeep was at his combative best: “Have you seen the plight of the Gujarat riot victims who have till date just been dumped near garbage dumps?”

Akbar was unmoved: “If you and I are going to be partisan, we could go on and on forever like this...”

The CNN-IBN editor then queried Akbar on India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “You wrote a very good biography on Nehru...you were a great admirer of Nehru...are you now moving away from Nehruvian philosophy to Modism…? Would Nehru approve of Modi brand of secularism?”

Akbar replied: “Modi was 12-13 years old when Nehru died...these are all theoretical questions...therefore it is important for us to give the Modi sarkar a chance and we shall...”

Rajdeep probed reasons behind the editor joining the BJP: “Many will say that Akbar is a rank opportunist, that you are a careerist…you were with Rajiv Gandhi when the going was good in the eighties and now…”

Akbar decided that offence was the best defence: “You have got your history a little askew. In 1989 Rajiv Gandhi was losing…so it is not as you put it…it was not the easiest decision as a Muslim to join the BJP...”

Rajdeep egged on: “Was it a troubling process as an Indian Muslim to join Modi?”

Akbar replied without batting an eyelid: “These things don’t trouble me…”

Rajdeep persisted: “So it is not opportunism but realism?”

Akbar replied: “No no… I think he is going to help everyone. He is going to help the community of the poor. (Raises his voice) Does an onion and potato have a religion? He is going to deliver to the poorest…”

Not one to give in without getting some answers, Rajdeep carried on: “What about trust? Do Muslims trust him? Yes it is true that the Congress has also used Muslims…but the BJP has also used vote bank politics to create a Hindu vote bank…that is also a reality...the politics of fear and Muslims as enemy…”

Akbar’s brief reply was: “That is why we have to move away from both…”

Rajdeep continued: “Do you think that Modi...”

Cutting in, Akbar stated: “I think we are forming judgements on issues…we should see what he has asked…Madhu Kishwar has done a lot of work and studied the riots... (pleads) Let us find the future, Rajdeep…this is the moment we can really really find the future…that was the theme of my piece in ET.”

Rajdeep had more to ask: “Some could say that you were using the media platform to put out your biases…that you have given up your credibility for political opportunism…”

Akbar: “The column of mine that you refer to in the Times Of IndiaTimes of India has lots of tough editors…I wasn’t the editor of my own pieces…I am sure if they had smelt something if they thought I was using the column…In 1989 when I joined politics also I left editing…this time too I discontinued the column..”

Rajdeep: “So why are you doing this? Is it to write a great book on your transformation on yourself or Modi or for a Rajya Sabha seat?”

Akbar: “Writing a book is much more interesting but not about myself…as for being in Parliament…I have no such hankering…I have been there done that…it doesn’t excite me as a holy grail action.”

Rajdeep (persists): “Why have you done this then?”

Akbar: “You may think that I am sermonising…I really really do believe that by joining an economic development that I can do...the poor and large no of Muslims…I really really feel very strongly…Rajdeep we can go on and on and exposing our partisan ways...”

Once more, Rajdeep questioned him about his ideology: “Are you saying Mr Akbar that you have moved away from the Neheruvian version of secularism you have moved away from and you are now with the Modi version of secularism…?”

Akbar: (frustrated) “You are deflecting and not listening to the answer…”

Wanting some concrete answer, Rajdeep asked: “Is your frustration with Congress leading you to Modi?”

Akbar: “If that is your analyses...then I am among the many crores of Indians who feel that way…you cannot really indulge in the politics of ineptitude…”

Rajdeep: “Is the answer then muscular authoritarianism as represented by Modi?”

Akbar: “The answer is muscular good government…we need a prime minister who has  a voice...a prime minister who says we need a 100 cities...imagine India with 100 cities? Isn’t that something to dream about where employment is generated...”

Rajdeep ended with: “So are you saying chodo kalki bateinkalki baat purani…” (Forget harking back to the past…the past is stale)

Akbar agreed: “Yes, but you must complete that song…naye daur ki nayi kahani…” (Sing of a new age…a new story)

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