MJ Akbar: Not COVERT
but GUARDIAN of BJP line!
When a meritorious media person joins politics, almost tremor overtakes the media world. The event gives rise to intense gossip-mongering within sections that carry the burden of opinion-building in society by way of their serious writings or views expressed through the electronic media. The other proliferating segment of non-descript, small-time surveyors within the profession goes into spin too, berating the political aspirant as "turncoat and pseudo journalist."
No one can dispute that temptation to join politics is driven by an inexorable ambition to win that ultimate clout of power and influence, something that is not available within the media expanse. Not all aspirants, however, realize that to survive and grow with some degree of respect within the vast stretch of this power space is as difficult as it is easy to enter this area in pursuit of power and recognition.
And what facilitates one's entry here? Just be on a ground high enough to give you extra credence and visibility and, tap your space a little meticulously to place your orientation through subtle observations in your writings that don't look crudely compliant. That becomes a certificate of your political leanings, something the party you target needs. And why do the parties welcome such individuals who, as intellectuals and sensitive thinkers, are basically not cut out for such a "rough and tough" job where occasional muscle-showing becomes inevitable? Possibly, politicians need them to flaunt their broad base of think-tanks that is traditionally seen as drawing talents from almost every distinguished field of human activity.
Journalists have been crossing over to politics for a long time now. But when a professional journalist turns politician, people who had read him with interests in newspaper and magazines columns or watched him talking impartially and sensibly on TV for years, lose much of the respect they held for him or her as a media person. Clearly, viewers and readers get a wrong message and brand the person as having lowered his or her grade. An enlightened reader understands that a journalist doesn't have to be an activist, a hunter, or a "buddy in possession" through compromises and over-familiarity, swaying into the guarded field of comfort that promises, "I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine."
Why do some journalists try to have comfortable life, enjoy freebies, fine wine and seven-star meals ? And why do they consider all this dirt "fair, impartial and balanced" ? Possibly, because they woo all parties to seek favours. Why are our journalists held in the same contempt that is reserved for politicians ? Do they swing public opinion under the epidemic of 'paid news'?
A very senior, widely respected editor says, "if a journalist enjoys his job and relishes his writings, he will never think of joining politics; at best he can take up social causes and spread awareness about the need for serious work in these fields. If someone rises to fulfill his ambitions by joining politics, he ceases to be a journalist and a hunter of people-friendly causes.” I also feel a true journalist with some integrity at heart is passionate about informing the public debate and writes objectively, carrying multiple perspectives. For him, no one is beyond reproach.
A number of journalists, such as late Bal Thackeray, Arun Shourie, Shahid Siddiqui, Rajiv Shukla, Chandan Mitra, Balbir Punj, etc, quietly walked to politics and made a grade there. Many more may join this field in times to come, provided they get proper openings. In the present pre-poll time, BJP has roped in M J Akbar, the country’s high-profile, much-prized eminent journalist of long standing and present editor of The Sunday Guardian and an eminent Muslim face.
Akbar has an endless journey of success as a journalist and author to his credit that began way back in 1971 as a trainee with The Times of India and took him to 'Onlooker', Sunday, The Telegraph, The Asian Age, India's first global newspaper, Deccan Herald, The International Herald Tribune published from India, Covert magazine and The Sunday Guardian, published simultaneously from Delhi and London. But it was the Political weekly SUNDAY that put Akbar on high route to success, because of the magazine's uncompromising stance against the Emergency that fought press censorship and Indira Gandhi's dictatorial policies.
But years later, in 1989, something slogging struck this soaring career hard. Akbar found it worthwhile to link his fate to that of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with a detour to politics, taking up the job of Rajiv's official spokesman. He was elected MP from Bihar on Congress-I ticket, but lost the seat in 1991. Rajiv was convinced that Akbar's usefulness could be gainfully tapped elsewhere. So, he made him advisor in the Ministry of Human Resources, where he ably contributed in the planning of policies in key areas of education.
But as I said earlier, for an ascending, evolving writer, pursuits other than journalism don't really bring in a rewarding experience, Akbar soon felt chained within the ministerial hook-up. He went back to journalism by 1992-end, pretty disheartened, I suppose.
Some 21 years later, Akbar has chosen to repeat the same tryst with destiny, this time with a political formation where spirit of democracy and dissent prevails a little more freely. It's not a party like Congress where the Nehru-Gandhi family takes major decisions. Here is a party where there is a space for dissent and at the top already stands menacingly split for a variety of reasons, which include the one that Akbar has found profoundly convenient: his strong liking for Narendra Modi, BJP's prime ministerial nominee. Party patriarch L K Advani and some other top-rung leaders like Sushma Swaraj, M M Joshi and many more are apparently feeling "suffocated" in the party under the weight of, what they privately call, "senseless impositions" by the leadership under Modi's spell. Denied ticket, senior leader Jaswant Singh has already filed his nomination as an independent. But Akbar is not perturbed and sees Modi as the prospective savior of the country and the answer to its multiple ills that cropped up during years of Congress misrule.
How come, Akbar is so confident of Modi's suitability for the top job? He found Modi, faced with moments of grave danger to his life at his Patliputra rally, talking from heart rather than head. Modi's "instant response", says Akbar, "was to ask a powerful question to both Hindus and Muslims that went to the crux of the principal challenge before our nation, and included its solution as well. He asked these two great communities to choose: they could either fight each other, or together they could confront that shaming curse called poverty...This placed everything in context and priority: we need peace in our country as an absolute fundamental necessity. This gives us the chance to rescue an economy that has been sent to hospital in the last decade before it sinks to a deathbed. The primary purpose of economic growth is to lift the poorest from their awful misery; and this can best be achieved only when every Indian, across differences of creed and caste, works hand in hand."
But then Akbar questions: "How do such principles accord with the fact of the Gujarat riots, which is a constant theme in all attacks on him (Modi) ?... Paradoxically, these questions were answered over ten years by the UPA government. There has never been, since independence, such intense scrutiny, or such absolute determination to trace guilt to a Chief Minister, as Modi faced from institutions loyal to the UPA government over two full terms."
And finally, Akbar explains why he came to BJP under Modi's leadership : "We need a national recovery mission. Only someone who has delivered can offer a credible promise of leading such a critical mission. For those on the wrong side of 30 or 40, five years is just another passage in life. For those who are 20, five years is the difference between aspiration and despair. If a young person does not find a job in these five years, he or she begins to lose that vital energy which comes from self-confidence. If the young do not power the economy, then the economy will be stuck in the quagmire of idle waste. There is only one way forward. And there is, among the visible choices, only one person best suited to lift the nation out of a septic swamp. You know his name as well as I do."
But my only worry for MJ Akbar is: Will such a sensitive soul, with strong convictions, straight philosophy and so deeply immersed in journalistic fare, really survive and prosper in a party whose top is precariously divided on Modi issue? His earlier experiment with politics was too much of a drag. My good wishes to him for this stint!
Before the assembly elections when Ashutosh, a known face of Indian television, quit as editor of a news network and joined Aam Aadmi Party, many called him names. A TV celebrity anchor privately commented, "This opportunist will get it in the neck sooner than he plays havoc there."` Another said, "Kejriwal has promised him Ministry." Now within months of joining AAP, he is contesting LS poll on a premier Chandni Chowk seat, despite stiff protests from party ranks. Did he finish his job in absolute disgrace? He pretended to be a journalist while being a political crony of AAP. He lost his job and became a politician. Why did Kiran Bedi hand him Roget’s Thesaurus? Did he really not understand the meaning of 'anarchy'? I wish him well, too!