Monday, January 25, 2021
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A Smriti Irani fan asks a question: Why?

Dear Ms Irani,

In a recent social event of the expatriate families in Dar-es-Salaam, where I stay, husbands and wives were asked to fill independently a questionnaire. The idea was to check how much their views on various issues coincided— some simple Hindi serial type game. One of the questions was: Who is your female icon? You know what? My wife and I replied ‘Smriti Irani’.

Such is our faith in you. You are an icon for us. And when the icon puts the common enemy on the mat, it is a delightful sight. A masterful performance. That is what I felt when I watched your interview to Barkha Dutt—your 2nd in the last six months; in fact exactly on the six monthly anniversary of your first interview to her November 26, 2015. You put her on the defensive on many issues. A part of me enjoyed those precious moments when you steadfastly refused to yield even an inch to Barkha on the issue of hate she and NDTV nurture for BJP.

But then that was just a part of me, the emotional part. Another part, the logical one, asked me, especially after the childish excitement of watching you put Barkha in her place subsided, ‘Why this interview?’ It was an important day for you, a day that marked the 2nd anniversary of the BJP government in Delhi. You chose to be Amethi, which shows your commitment to the constituency though you lost the election. Right day, right venue, but why wrong company? I celebrate my birthday, anniversary and such important occasions in the company of near and dear ones, not with my sworn enemies.

Your genuine regret, you said, rightly so, was: Why would we go to a Barkha Dutt show when she demonises all of us? You voiced similar sentiments even during your previous interview. But you did not explain on both the occasions why you chose to swallow the regret and give the interview. Which makes me wonder whether there was a pressure on you to accord Barkha/ NDTV’s request. I would not be surprised if there was. After all, you are not the only one to rush to NDTV to give interview. Top BJP leaders—Arun Jaitely, Nitin Gadkari, Manohar Parikkar, and so on— make a beeline, ignoring the protests of online supporters.

Elaborating further, you said, ‘The regret is that I would talk to a Barkha Dutt and still not have her treat my leadership well.’ You will agree with me that this reason holds good even today. You would not have forgotten her recent open letter to Modi in which she poured venom on him. You were, in fact, tagged by her in her tweet promoting the open letter, which led to a spat between you and her. She used the pretext of JNU issue to recount and justify everything she had done since 2002. I would not like to go into the contents of her letter, which I feel has been written in bad taste. However, the fact that a rebuttal in OpIndia by a tweeple—not quite a celebrity like Barkha—trended in Twitter and was shared more than 9,000 times goes on to prove the revulsion she and her channel generate among BJP supporters.

If Barkha’s and her channel’s approach has not changed, what else has, to warrant the interview? Viewership of NDTV? If at all there is something that everyone—cutting across party lines, media lines, and political affiliations—agrees it is NDTV’s dwindling viewership. It comes a distant 3rd or 4th after Times Now. If you wanted your Amethi visit to be covered, which is a Hindi heartland, would it not have been better if you had chosen a Hindi channel? In any case, the viewership of Hindi News channels is far higher. Based on week 20’s (May 14th to 20th) viewership data of BARC, the viewership of top 5 Hindi News channels is 185 times that of the top 5 English channels.

Referring to the spat you had with Priyanka Chaturvedi in Twitter, you said that you had given a new lease of life to her by acknowledging her. Ma’am, it is not the Congress spokesperson you have given new lease of life, but Barkha Dutt and NDTV.

Though I hate, I am forced to compare this support-the-hostile-channel approach with what a weak Congress, which is on the verge of decimation and is so insecure as to ask its legislators to sign affidavits of support to Gandhi family, is doing to the more popular Times Now. The party has successfully reined in its spokespersons from participating in the News Hour. It beats me why a strong BJP cannot afford to ignore a weak NDTV?

I want to quote here the concluding part of your interview to Barkha in November 2015:

NDTV: Smriti Irani, pleasure talking to you, I hope it won’t be another year and a half before we speak.

Smriti Irani: Depends on the social media reaction. 

NDTV: Now come on, for somebody who said I don’t care about what people say should your decisions be guided by social media?

Smriti Irani: Please understand, these are the people; I have one kid called Shilpi Tiwari online, seven months pregnant, genuinely a very tough pregnancy, left everything, came there and sat there to help in Amethi. I call him Madcap Bagga, Tajender Bagga, who everybody in the Leftwing seems to hate, Bagga never asked me for anything, quietly came and put up posters supporting me, all the rickshaws of Amethi, I owe them, Barkha.

NDTV: But do you defend the kind of toxicity that you see on twitter?

Smriti Irani: I owe them

You owe us, Ms. Irani.

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