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Why people love to hate Barkha Dutt

She has pinned the tweet. Why wouldn’t she? After all Priya Ramani’s piece in livemint eulogises Barkha Dutt, and stamps on her the coveted victimhood that she has painstakingly claimed in her book, beneath which she could subtly push all her journalistic failures.

Claiming victimhood is a pleasurable pastime of the “secular” gang; a woman, a person from a remote part of India, one who studied in XYZ college rather than St. Stephens — all these are romantic claims, only that you should not be blatant about them. You pretend to shrug these off in your columns, books and interviews, but when a buddy from your claque gratuitously pastes them on you, you should lap them up.

Notice the haste with which Barkha accepts the accolades showered by Ramani: ‘This is about me yes but it’s larger point is abuse, misogyny…’ reads her tweet. When a twitterati pointed out, she accepted the ‘typo’ in the underlined word. But aren’t typos, ‘weak communication skills’, and ‘poor ability in English’, the anatomy of an Internet Hindu? How could Barkha Dutt commit such a grave mistake? Simple. It is just the desperation to claim victimhood.

Ramani’s horizon ends with the fact that Barkha is a woman. That she is a journalist is secondary.

Consider this. Ramani is quite considerate and accepts that Barkha’s presence in Nira Radia tapes is a ‘chink in her armour.’ Her grouse? ‘The male journalists on the tapes have long moved past that news story.’ That in a blatant violation of journalistic ethics Barkha tried to broker a deal between Congress and DMK does not seem to matter to Ramani at all. All that matters to her is Barkha is unable to wriggle out of the presstitute image because she is a woman.

And no, the male journalists have not moved past that story. Ask Vir Sanghvi, “Radia” is thrown at him with as much vigour and persistence as it is thrown at Barkha, at least on Twitter. Only a few weeks back Sanghvi had spent an entire day blocking everyone who mentioned “Radia” and tagged him, no matter what the content of the tweet was. So no, the male journalists have not moved past. At least the “trolls” have not allowed them to.

The story in livemint has been shared more than 11,000 times pointing to the immense popularity of Priya Ramani’s piece. The provocative title—Why everybody likes to hate Barkha Dutt— and the cool and composed image of a smiling Barkha, with her head slightly tilted to her right and smiling unobtrusively at the camera, suggest at the outset that the story is intended to appeal to the emotions of the readers, rather than to their reasoning.

But most of the Barkha’s critics do not have the luxury of being dumb as is enjoyed by her fans. They need to be convinced. They need to be provided with facts. Which is what this piece attempts to do by taking an aerial view of Barkha’s journalistic accomplishments.

So, in Priya Ramani’s reckoning, why does everyone hate Barkha? Because ‘she is powerful, fiercely political and independent (and in this case single-an added negative) woman who is unafraid of articulating her voice. She is “arrogant”, that classic descriptor for any non conforming Indian woman.’ Really? Let us see how each of these attributes fits her.

Powerful: Consider the fact that Barkha, Rajdeep and Arnab started their career around the same time in NDTV. Look at what her erstwhile colleagues have achieved. Rajdeep’s career has been a mixed bag. He quit NDTV, tried to rub shoulders with Prannoy Roy, the entrepreneur, set up his own channel, tried to run it successfully, made compromises and failed. But you have to give it to him. He tried. Come to Arnab. He joined TOI group in 2006 and set up Times Now from scratch. You may or may not agree with his coverage of certain issues, but he has got the channel to top the TRP charts. What has Barkha been doing all the while? Presiding over the descent of NDTV. Losing easily the first mover advantage to the late entrants.

But she is powerful. So what are her credentials to be powerful? As a consulting editor of a failing channel, does she not wield disproportionate power? After all, where does she get this power from? People appreciate power that is derived from hard work and success. In her case, does it not flow from her proximity to the currently out-of-power politicians? Will this kind of power not generate hate? And against whom does she use this power? We will see later under the “arrogant” part.

Fiercely political and independent: I don’t know whether describing a journalist as fiercely political is a tribute or an expletive for a journalist. Further I don’t know how one can be fiercely political, and yet independent. Remember the ‘Tell me what I should tell them‘ bit in Radia tapes. What does it prove? Does it not prove that she is political, but not independent?

Arrogant: Yes, she is. Not because she articulates her views, but she refuses to listen to saner arguments of her detractors. Read this twitter spat between her and Raveena on Karvachauwth. Raveena recognises Barkha’s freedom of choice, all she objects to is the use of the term ‘regressive’ which she feels is strong and offends those who follow the tradition. Barkha simply refuses to see the point. Her arrogance mixed with the power that she enjoys is lethal.

While listing the reasons which could have earned Barkha the wrath of everyone, Priya Ramani misses some crucial mis-steps in Barkha’s career. Her controversial coverage of the Kargil war or  that of the 26/11 terror attacks (for which she now accepts responsibility), her role in the Gujarat riots or the recent rumour mongering in the Church attacks where she tried to connect the non-existent dots or the Dadri lynching, her biased job as a “moderator” at a debate on Islam and women — Barkha’s coverage/treatment has been communal, insensitive, and sometimes even causing grave risk to national security.

Anyone who has had the guts to point this out or object to her narrative has been at the receiving end. Either a legal notice or a spat in twitter or downright ridicule by Barkha’s claque greeted them. If you are an aam aadmi like Chaitanya Kunte or Yogesh Kumar, in Barkha’s jurisprudence, you deserve a legal notice or a police case.  If you are a celebrity like Raveena Tandon or a famous personality like Rupa Subramanya, a twitter spat would do for you. In fact, had she exhibited a bit of maturity and listened to her critics, she would have course-corrected NDTV’s downfall.

Dutt, who tracks Kashmir and Pakistan, is routinely labeled a Muslim woman—maybe because her trolls think it’s the worst possible slur?’ wonders Ramani.

Shallow journalism. Ramani does not realize that it is not because of Barkha’s coverage of Kashmir and Pakistan, but the content of it that generates anger among the Indians. Sample these.

1. In a recent open letter to Chetan Bhagat she devotes three paragraphs for Nayeem (what happened to him was very unfortunate), but not a single line for Kashmiri pundits. Perhaps she has forgotten to mention the pundits, you might think. Not at all because she asks righteously, ‘why graver threats and deeper tragedies over the years did not get the “national attention” that the strife inside NIT did.’ She has definite views on the pundits. Watch this clip. She cites the alleged economic affluence of the pundits in the eighties as reason enough to justify attacks on them.

2. She rushed to interview Kanhaiya Kumar after his release, but she did not find it worth interviewing anyone from NIT Srinagar.

3. On the Pakistan issue, an example of her conduct is provided by the ‘Dehati Aurat’ episode and the alleged secret meeting Modi and Sharif that she suddenly revealed to sell her book. On both the occasions, she went soft on Pakistan at the cost of India’s image.

The final point Ms Ramani is, that Barkha Dutt is hated not because she is a woman, not because she is powerful, not because she covers Kashmir and Pakistan, but because she is a bad biased journalist.

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