Mr. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay has been a writer, columnist and journalist based in Delhi. He is an expert on ‘Hindu nationalistic politics’. His works include: ‘The Demolition: India at the crossroads’ (1994), ‘Narendra Modi: The Man’, ‘The Times’ (2013) and ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’(2015). In this interview with Politically Correct, he talks about his personal journey, the state of Indian media and the current political status quo. Excerpts:
Q: You have been in this profession for the last three decades, covering a myriad of stories as columnist for a large array of media platforms. How do you see the changes in the Indian media from the time you started as a journalist? What has been the biggest upheaval?
A: The biggest change has been in terms of size and number. The presence of the Media has been empowered by sprouting of innumerable websites, newspapers, channels etc. Proliferation of the language media has been corresponded by higher literacy level and today not only English newspapers but also newspapers in the regional languages have gained a lot of attention. Much greater noise is being made by them than what they used to do in the 80s. Today the Media makes itself heard 24/7. I think this has been the change of foremost significance.
Q: Don’t you think the ethics of journalism has gone through changes over the years?
A: I came into this profession during the Post-emergency period when the public psyche still held the acrid memories of Emergency-days. During the Emergency, there was a clamp-down on the Media. The establishment of the Janata Government gave some sort of relief to journalism. Simultaneously, there were incidents like Bhagalpur Blinding which propelled people like me to join journalism. Investigative Journalism became a catchphrase and the youth aspired to be journalists. We were always told about the famous quote of L.K. Advani about media during emergency, when “media was asked to bend, but it crawled”. However, a certain section of journalists have had a legacy of being spineless in this country. They were blind. Ethics is not something, which has made Indian journalism distinct over the years. The number of people having an upright spine is still pretty less.
Q: Collusion of journalists and politicians has been a cause of worry for many. Lutyen’s Delhi circuit is generally a phrase used to reflect upon this nexus. Do you have a view on that?
As we have crony capitalism, there is crony journalism. That is not something surprising. Right from the time India became independent, there have been cases where people who were journalists went on to become prominent politicians of the time. Yes, I would say, now it is much closer and there is a greater connectivity between the two than it was in the past. I don’t feel it’s fair to say Delhi journalists are to be blamed solely for this nexus, as it happens everywhere in different states and their capitals. So, this is an ailment of the journalists across the country. There are large sections of Delhi media which is favorable to PM Modi. There are many who are neutral and are critics of the government. They don’t align themselves with the government, but that’s fine.
Q: About the book, ‘Narendra Modi: the Man, the Time’, you have said that you did not write the book in terms of binary but on neutrality. But Christiane Amanpour (senior journalist at CNN) says that writing should be truthful not neutral. Do you have a view on that?
A: Being neutral also means being truthful. They are complimentary to each other. I don’t see any contradiction between these two.
Q: Do you think that television journalism is more of sensationalism and excitement rather than giving actual content to the viewers to ponder upon?
A: Globally television is more frivolous than the print media. Television has been a means of entertainment and entertainment has its own crassness. I think it has affected Indian media also. Our cinema industry has its history of being crass and Indian media has been affected by it. Let me give you an example of crassness. Yesterday a hearing was going on in the International Court of Justice, the Hague. Mr. Harish Salve was pleading India’s case. All the English news channels were covering the proceedings live. I don’t know about a single Hindi news channel, if not other channels in regional language covering it live. So you presume that viewers of non-English news channels are stupid. They don’t need the news from The Hague. That is crassness.
Q: Of late, this has been the talk of the town that in the print media, the marketing department is taking over the editorial department. In fact, Mr. Jain of the TOI went the distance of saying he does not want to do news but sell news. How do you see it?
A: I understand what you are saying. There are some editors, who do guard the editorial say against marketing and there are editors, who don’t. Fortunately, I have worked with those, who guard. There are certain basic rules in all the media companies and what you require is reasonable adjustment and it is exactly 3 decades since the media promoters started to look at the newspapers not as a tool of political crusade but as a business commodity. Then happens the advent of colors, better packaging, glossy papers etc. Basically, all the big media companies are corporate-owned and you simply can’t act contrary to them. You need adjustment.
Q: So what is the future of the media?
A: Grow according to the market. Every industry has certain responsibilities. The Media should not cover only what the public wants. The Media cannot be populist. We can decide what they will read and see. So we should not take the position what Bombay film industry has taken.
Q: Some people think about some particular news channels that they are biased and inclined towards certain views. Is it true in journalism?
A: None can deny it. Every person has the freedom to think about these channels. Each and every media company has a certain orientation and that is how they function.
Q: You have had a long career in journalism and you have written a lot of editorials and columns. People say that journalists should not have opinion about everything. Is it the way to look at it?
A: We should have opinion of everything. Now it depends on what you are writing. You change your approach based on whether it’s an opinion or a film report or an analysis.
Q: Have you ever been told to write on something on which you’ve never written?
A: No. Never in my career. But still, I have written on culture, environment, law, so I’ve written on a lot of things, virtually everything.
Q: You have written the book, ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times,’ from a very neutral perspective. You also said that he discontinued his help when issues like 2002 and setbacks of his Government came on the fore and he became quite reluctant to talk. How did you see it?
A: He didn’t want to talk on the topics on which he had spoken already. I don’t want to get liable of why I’ve written what I’ve written. I’ve said what I had to say in the book. I will repeat, whenever I asked Mr. Modi about 2002, he would say , go and check what I had said earlier. This is a very dangerous area to discuss and it certainly appeals him.
Q: You covered Modi after 2014. What has been the biggest change?
A: He definitely has grown. He has become much more capable of things at a much bigger perspective. Being a Chief Minister of a state is much smaller affair than being the Prime Minister.
Q: Modi talks about development. Modi talks about inclusive growth, ‘Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas.’ He has worked to create his image of a development-man. Has this image-manufacturing process been more successful than the actual execution of Government projects?
A: Everyone works on his or her image. He has greater interest in many things those others politicians don’t have. Personality plays a role. Though one cannot fault him on his personal attire; like Sonia Gandhi is particular about her sarees, Indira Gandhi was particular about the white dye on parts of her hair, in the same way Mr. Modi has some personal flares. He is much more flamboyant. The chapter “modisutra” in my book talks about how much care he takes for his clothes, specs watches and pens, basically his whole personal look.
Q: Your show, A Page from History, on Lok Sabha TV, was discontinued in 2015. How do you relate that to the change of regime in the central government?
A: It was said by a large number of people that the show was discontinued because I had written a book on Mr. Modi, which did not please the political masters and bosses in the country. I was personally disappointed by that decision. In the show, I never took a line. It can possibly be the most neutral perspective on an absolutely controversial subject like history.
Q: You have done extensive coverage of RSS-VHP and Hindutvadi ‘Kamnadal- mandal’ politics of the 90s. Do you think Hindutva has been normalized in the mainstream?
A: Yes. They have greater acceptance today than the 80s.
Q: Is it because of the marketing?
A: It is due to the adoption of several strategies: marketing, decline of the Congress, fall of the Soviet Union, relentless targeting of minorities in India. Idea of India is diversity and diversity is something seen antagonistic in India’s becoming a superpower.
Q: Should we compare Mr. Modi to Turkish president Erodgan? Is his Government Erdoganised?
A: It is too early to say whether that kind of constitutional change will happen in India or not. Let’s see. A lot of things he should not have done and there are also a lot of things he has done in his administration. Works needed to be more on ground and less on words. I would have liked if he had become more inclusive. His greatest achievement would be further weakening of the opposition.
Q: In your article ‘Fringe is the Main-stream,’ you commented on Adityanath. Was Adityanath a strategic choice or an aadesh from Nagpur?
A: It became a convergence of interest. Nagpur agreed. Delhi agreed. Kolkata agreed. Everybody found him suitable.
Q: RSS has created a class of ideologues to connect to the mass. People like Rakesh Sinha, Rajeev Malhotra shout their agenda. How is this tactic?
A: RSS always had people who had no intellectual potential. Now they have started to get in some people for their own good of expanding among the mass. But they need to increase the caliber of these people. They are so angry most of the times. Everybody considers them intellectual, so I also consider them ‘intellectual’. It’s a subjective assessment. Let people decide. There are people in Sangh Parivar with whom we can have some fine rational debate and discussion even while disagreeing. I do it all the time. But most of them are terrible.
Q: So is applicative Hindutva different from ideological Hindutva?
A: there is only one Hindutva. One expression of it is articulate and another is crude. RSS is the umbrella organization and the ABVP, the BJP are affiliated bodies to it.
Q: Right-wing trade unions in India have repeatedly talked of swadeshi. How is BJP’s stance with more liberalization a swadeshi step?
A: Yes. I think the basis of Make in India programme is swadeshi. He has termed Make in India as the mother of all swadeshi programmes. He has been able to convince RSS.
Q: Yogi Adityanath is not actually from the RSS. He is from the Mahasabha. What is the difference between the two?
A: It’s a strategic convergence. Still they are people within mahasabha who don’t want to come together.
Q: Coming to the book on 1984, people often accused that 1984 is not discussed with greater detail. Do you think 1984 investigation was not handled properly?
A: One should not compare 1984 with 2002. These are the sinful episodes if our history. We need resolution to both of these. 1984 was investigated very well. A booklet, ‘Who Are the Guilty,’ was published.
Q: What’s the main objective of writing about this in 2015? Is it an obituary?
A: No. BJP had talked a lot about the 1984. So it’s interesting to see what they do while forming the Government. Books on tragedies connect with me at times.
Q: can you name your favorite book among the three you had written?
A: My first book on Babri Demolition has been my favorite. It has helped me to grow more and learn more.
Q: India has a history of attracting the youth to left-wing politics. How do you look upon the youth, attracted to right wing policies?
A: This is due to the failure of left wing politics in India. Proper strategy was required with the change of time.
Q: Do you have any message for the new aspiring journalists and how do you reflect upon your personal journey?
A: Only one message – Read as much as u can. It should be informative as it stays with you. My personal journey has been a never ending process. It’s been a great learning experience and I have never said that I have known everything.
The interview was carried out by Aditya Poddar, a student of Commerce and edited by Sambuddha Bhattacharjee, a student of Political Science, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.