Opinion

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.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.