All of us have our opinions about the state of journalism in India and across the world. Indian journalism has been broadly analyzed in two eras. One pre-2002 and another post-2002. One of the shining lights of the post-2002 era of Indian journalism has been Rajdeep Sardesai.
When Rajdeep finds time from enjoying the largesse given to him by Mukesh Ambani and from writing error-prone books on cricket, he hosts evening shows on IndiaToday TV. His ongoing stint in this channel has completely sidelined the gen-next stars like Gaurav Sawant and Shiv Aroor. Not only do these young Turks get smaller slots on prime time, but most of the important interviews are now conducted by Rajdeep.
It came via a masterpiece of an interview with Mamata Banerjee. When one gets a chance to interview any politician, it is expected that important questions are asked. Rajdeep did not disappoint. Here is the sample list of questions (not verbatim) that should be part of the curriculum in Journalism 101:
Rajdeep: How are you going to bring back the sweetness of the Rasagolla?
Rajdeep: You say there is super emergency in India. But in Bengal, when a doctor puts a facebook post on Dengue, he is suspended.
Mamata: This is a petty question.
Rajdeep: (silence) (Next question).
Rajdeep: You supported GST
Mamata: We did not. It was by voice vote.
Rajdeep: (silence) (Next question).
Rajdeep: You were the first to oppose demonetization
Mamata: Yes. What is the result? Recession started…
Rajdeep: (Next question)
Rajdeep: You embrace Rohingyas?
Mamata: We follow the UN policy
Rajdeep: Forget the controversial political questions…
Rajdeep: You say you haven’t changed. But I see you have become thinner. What have you been doing? Are you on a diet?
Rajdeep: What is the secret of you staying so fit?
Rajdeep: When you are not doing politics, how do you keep yourself entertained?
Rajdeep: I will give you an option today. Either you sing for us or draw for us.
Rajdeep starts this interview session with congratulating Mamata Banerjee for getting full GI certification for Rosgulla. Basically, winning the battle against Orissa. This was fake news, but then again, we aren’t surprised that Rajdeep would start with fake news, are we? Anyway, it was a fairly long Modi bashing session, where Rajdeep asked leading questions and Mamata didi obliged. Rajdeep could have asked her about her hypocrisy on Freedom of Expression. Her shocking stand on celebrating Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s birth anniversary. How the Supreme Court slammed her for not respecting Federal Structure in the Aadhaar case. When she says how important Bengal and Bengalis are to her, Rajdeep could have asked her why she passed diktats on Durga Puja for the sake of minority appeasement. Why radical muslim elements in her state are free to threaten India’s sovereignty because of fellow muslims from other countries? Why did she issue a gag gag on her ministers over speaking about Triple Talaq? Why did jihadi mobs feel free to run amok and kill a 65-year-old man in Basirhat?
The list of questions a true journalist might want to ask a political leader like Mamata Banerjee is endless. And any journalist worth his salt would have used this opportunity to act as the representative of the people, asking questions that deserve answers. But Rajdeep isn’t known for his astuteness. Right before the Uttar Pradesh elections, he had done a fluff interview of Akhilesh Yadav, perhaps in the hopes of thwarting BJP’s inevitable win in UP. And now, with BJP foraying into Bengal and upcoming Gujarat elections, he just had to do another fluff interview sans tough questions that gave the interviewee ample opportunity to trash Narendra Modi without answers for her own sins.
Rajdeep and his supporters may claim that since it was a conclave by India Today, and Mamata Bannerjee was a guest, it was the host being courteous to the guest. But are such courtesies reserved for guests who do not have the first name Narendra and the last name Modi? Some time back, Rajdeep had played host at another conclave and the tone and tenor of his questions had left then CM Modi remark that the organizers should introspect on the choice of the interviewer in the future.
While tragic, Rajdeep’s bias is evident and expected. Perhaps, instead of trying to defeat Narendra Modi through biased journalism and shaming the profession in the process, Rajdeep should consider joining politics. At least he would spare the profession the disgrace he brings to it.