Rajya Sabha polls: Keeping politics and journalism apart is the rule, but exceptions are increasing

The Congress has nominated former editor Kumar Ketkar while the BJP has picked media owner and MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Every time a journalist or a media owner is nominated to the Rajya Sabha, it evokes a passing bout of hand-wringing over journalistic independence. But look closer and you find that it is more a case of confirming an ideological or political affiliation that was already there, or of a professional journalist who for her/his own reasons is ready to move into politics for the solutions she/he thinks it offers.

The elections to 58 Rajya Sabha seats due on March 23 have thrown up two prominent names – former Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar, and businessman, media owner and member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The former has been offered a nomination from Maharashtra by the Congress. The latter was thus far an independent MP from Karnataka supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party but has now been nominated by the BJP for another term.

How terrible precisely is the switch to active politics at a time when some television channels are unabashedly partisan and are rewarded for their pains with exclusive interviews with the prime minister? You could argue that formal affiliation is worse than a bias. Does it compromise journalism? If you are an editor, yes. If you are a media owner, perhaps. But if you are a talking head on television known for a certain ideological affinity, surely not that much?

And Kumar Ketkar would argue that that is where he fits in. He received similar offers from the Congress twice before but says he declined them then because he was chief editor of Loksatta and thought he should not go to the Upper House while he was still a working journalist. But that was five years ago. Twenty years ago, he had a more colourful offer, from Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray who told him he could have a Rajya Sabha seat the next day if he was willing to shed his ideological affiliation.

Now, Ketkar is 72, says he is no longer a working journalist and is a little surprised that Congress president Rahul Gandhi is trying to induct someone who is not from Generation Next. And he does not think staying away from politics can contribute to keeping fascism – which he accuses the BJP government of – at bay. Better make the jump, then.

Swapan Dasgupta, now a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, similarly was part of the commentariat and still is. Journalists like him have long had identifiable political leanings, so a party nomination does not change that much.

Editor and MP

Nominating a practising editor would be a different proposition, except that the editors in the Rajya Sabha are usually owner-editors. Shahid Siddiqui – who has had a long political career, moving through the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – is one such. He owns the Urdu weekly he edits, and it also reflects his politics. Chandan Mitra, the chief editor of Pioneer, is in essence running a publication with a recognisable political bias. So, when he was a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha, there was no great disservice to journalism there either.

Harivansh, formerly of Prabhat Khabar, is an exception. He was the editor-in-chief of Prabhat Khabar when the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar surprised him with an offer in 2014. He was working in Jharkhand at the time but was nominated for a seat in Bihar. He decided he was ready to make the switch to politics. It took the paper’s owners close to two years to hire a replacement, so there was a period when Harivansh was both editor and MP. But his name was removed as chief editor from the printline of the paper two months after he took oath as MP. That is now over and he can focus on why he moved to politics in the first place.

Because as he puts it, “whatever great journalism you do, the system does not change”. His paper exposed several scams, including the fodder scam. It did great investigative journalism, but there was no systemic change. Now he is discovering that you cannot change things through Parliament either. “I thought I was moving to a platform where you can raise issues,” Harivansh said. “I raise an issue in Parliament, but eventually nothing happens… I thought it was a forum where serious issues could be raised but there has been no business transacted over the past week.”

Journalists and politics

The dalliance between journalists and politics has a long and colourful history. Pritish Nandy was given a Rajya Sabha nomination by Thackarey’s Shiv Sena, Rajiv Gandhi persuaded MJ Akbar to fight a Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket, Cho Ramaswamy was a Rajya Sabha MP nominated by the BJP, as was Ranchi Express owner-editor Ajay Maroo.

The relationship between some media owners and the Rajya Sabha has stretched over longer time spans. Hindustan Times proprietor KK Birla was a Rajya Sabha MP for 18 years while his daughter Shobhana Bhartia was a nominated MP more recently. Narendra Mohan Gupta and Mahendra Mohan Gupta of Jagran Prakashan, which publishes Dainik Jagran, managed nominations from the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, though the family has not had a seat in the Upper House in recent years. Vijay Darda was chairman and editor-in-chief of Lokmat while serving three terms in the Rajya Sabha. Subhash Chandra of Zee has just begun his innings and given how entrenched his media house is with the ruling BJP, it could be a long one.

Media houses think their empires can benefit from proximity to those in power. Political parties think a friendly media empire is a useful thing.

Keeping politics and journalism apart is fortunately still the rule, but it looks like the exceptions are set to increase.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by Catalyst.org stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.