Ashutosh’s outburst came against the backdrop of the chastising uproar over the conduct of politicians, police and the media over the episode, and it brings to the fore a sticky question – do journalists make good politicians? Even more than this, do lawyers make better politicians than journalists? Why only lawyers, you ask? Because the law frat singularly dominates the political landscape, while journalists are just beginning to make a bashful appearance.
The Aam Aadmi Party was the first political outfit to field 20 journalists in the 2014 general elections – among them former Tehelka reporter Ashish Khetan, former Time correspondent Anita Pratap, journalist and shoe chucker (on P Chidambaram) Jarnail Singh, former IBN Hindi anchor Ashutosh. Former Zee news reader Manish Sisodia, now deputy chief minister of Delhi, contested and won both the 2013 and 2015 state assembly polls on AAP ticket.
In contrast, lawyers have thronged Parliament over the decades – Gandhi himself was a barrister before he became the Mahatma, the Modi Cabinet has at least 15 lawyers on its rolls.
But what is it that pushes Ashutosh over the brink and break down on TV, while Arun Jaitley and P Chidamabaram can brazen out stinging accusations and mud-slinging? Admitted, former editor Arun Shourie did not blanch when allegations of cronyism were hurled at him during his stint as a Union minister, nor did the late Bal Thackeray, cartoonist and journalist, flinch despite being hailed as Hitler. Yet, today’s greenhorn journo-politicians seem to wilt in the face of a moral blowout. So what sets hack-politicians apart from lawyer-leaders?
Here are five reasons.
1. Moral quotient: Lawyers have a clear mandate – it’s not just about justice, morality or guilt, it’s about defending the client, irrespective of whether the person is culpable. Lawyers defend all, from drug dealers to murderers to human rights abusers to corporate offenders, because every individual has the right to a fair trial. Who hasn’t heard of discrediting credible witnesses? Seizing a tactical error made by the prosecution?
So what happens when you swap the lawyer for an MP? They can defend the truth, and also the opposite. Just watch Jaitley, Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Ravi Shankar Prasad and the rest. Journalists, on the other hand, are at least obliged to pursue a high-minded task, gathering news, enlightening the public, and bringing about change. So, when you have morally charged and politically engaged hacks move to politics, is it surprising they can have an emotional meltdown, sometimes leading to wracking sobs?
2. Law and ethics: Lawyers are defined by the laws that determine what is sanctioned, journalists are bound by ethics of the profession. Only lawyers can stop journalists from telling the truth – with court injunctions, pleas and censorship. As any journalism textbook will instruct, every hack must have a moral compass, a personal sense of ethics and responsibility. Lawyers have to work only within a legal framework, which is why party spokespersons on television, mostly lawyers, can argue ad nauseam how everything is right or wrong. Journos are bound to explore and reason, for intellectual fairness, accuracy and credibility.
It’s also one of the reasons why Ashutosh disintegrated – for he must rue the day when AAP’s conscience-keepers Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were thrown out of the party, heralding the end of its intellectual diversity.
3. People power: Let’s face it, how do you expect lawyer-politicians to deal with issues like farmers suicide, malnutrition, corruption and how do you expect journalists to react to them? Look at the actions of erstwhile minister-lawyers like Chidamabaram and Sibal during the Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. For them, it was a law and order problem, so throw Hazare into prison. They were blissfully ignorant of the heaving resentment and disgust of the people against graft. And guess who emerged trumps – AAP with its founding members comprising journalists, activists, civil rights advocates.
Or, how Telecom Minister and lawyer Ravi Shankar Prasad was accused of trying to sneak in net controls through the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, but was blocked though social media activism. Lawyers look at political crises as an opportunity to control or eject inconvenient situations, journalists are programmed to see revolt as a signal for social change.
4. Zero-sum game: Lawyers and journalists may be karmic siblings in many ways – they believe in the splendour of language, the importance of facts and respect for expertise, but that’s where the similarity ends. Lawyers confuse with complicated jargon – the better the lawyer, the more perplexing his lingo. It was a lawyer too who brought the zero-sum game vocabulary into politics (the 2G scam?) Basically, in political parlance, as in game theory, zero-sum game means gains or losses are equally balanced by the losses and gains respectively of the other side. While the Modi government is yet to resort to the zero-sum game, journalists are wired to have zero tolerance for double-dealing. Wonder what ethical dilemma Ashutosh was seized by after Gajendra Singh’s suicide.
5 Corporate cronies: Okay, this is one area lawyers and journalists are becoming birds of a feather, yet there’s a difference. Lawyers represent the coroporations, and the media is increasingly being owned by corporate conglomerates. If once lawyers like Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar and Sardar Patel came together to give the country a rocklike constitutional foundation, today lawyers descend into politics to increase their power, influence and profit. Journalists, on the other hand, have to balance their independence with keeping their jobs, and even those at the top have to pretend that they are still in the business of public responsibility, even if their new pulpit or activism journalism is a sneaking cover for partisan journalism. With journalists now becoming part of the political establishment, some even politicians, all this dissembling is making the likes of poor Ashutosh schizoid and delirious.