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A journalist's discovery of politics

A former TV anchor explains his transition to politician

Archis Mohan 

Battle for Change


Harper Collins
Rs 350, 330 pages

Months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Ashutosh, an editor at a leading Hindi news channel and somebody who claims to have "detested politics from the bottom of his heart", quit his career of 22 years to be a full-time political worker. In his book The Crown Prince, The Gladiator and the Hope he says he "crossed over from the field of reporting to the to-be-reported about" category. This interesting explanation by a top editor of his motivation to join politics is, more than anything else, a good reason to read the book.

The book is part autobiographical and partly an account of how Narendra Modi used the mainstream as well as social media to win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is mostly a retelling of well-known facts about the elections and the contemporary Indian political scene, other than when details all that went inside the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the tumultuous months from the time it surprised many by forming a government in Delhi in end-2013 to the party's miscalculation in contesting over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha elections some months later.

isn't the first journalist in India to have joined active politics. But it makes for an engaging read when he tries to explain his reasons and betrays a largely unconcealed desire, which afflicts many a journalist in our part of the world, to somehow get to be a "player in the game". For most journalists, this translates into getting a Rajya Sabha seat. But had joined a new political party that couldn't have, at least then, sent him to the Rajya Sabha. Within a month of resigning from the news channel, Ashutosh was named AAP's Lok Sabha candidate from the Chandni Chowk seat. (Incidentally, three Rajya Sabha seats from Delhi, where AAP has a government, will be up for election in 2018.)

Ashutosh even claims to have had top offers from other news networks when he quit journalism, suggesting how his decision was a sacrifice. That Ashutosh joined the AAP wasn't a surprise to journalists who had covered the Anna Hazare-led Jan Lokpal and anti-corruption movement. Ashutosh and a band of journalists from his network were close advisors to what then was known as "Team Anna". "I might lay claim to a minor role in the AAP's decision to dissociate from Anna Hazare to form a political party," he writes.

During the election campaign, Ashutosh says, he discovered the underbelly of Delhi -- the abject poverty and lack of public amenities in its slums. What pained him as much was when party workers introduced him to the electorate by using his caste name. A Vaishya or Baniya, Ashutosh hadn't used his caste name since his days in the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the anti-Mandal agitation of 1990.

Again, the explanation suffers the benefit of afterthought. Just like any other political party, the AAP's ticket distribution had factored in caste and community calculations. Chandni Chowk has a large presence of the trading community who had supported Arvind Kejriwal, also a Baniya, and his party in the Assembly elections. The main rival to Ashutosh, and the eventual winner from the seat, was well known as belonging to the Baniya caste too and he didn't use his caste name either -- Harsh Vardhan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There was, therefore, little secret as to why Ashutosh was chosen to contest from Chandni Chowk.

Ashutosh also devotes several pages to explain his commitment to secularism and dislike for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP. He quotes from Bunch of Thoughts, a book by the Sangh's second chief M S Golwalkar, "which, incidentally, has mysteriously disappeared from the public domain", as evidence of the deep distrust of the RSS of even Indian Muslims. He says RSS's discomfort of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru stemmed from his position on Muslims, but even Sardar Patel was opposed to a "Hindu Rashtra".

He quotes veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar more than once to "expose" BJP's efforts to appropriate the legacy of India's first home minister, Sardar Patel, but also on how Congress leaders, including C Rajagopalachari and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, had felt that Patel would have made a better prime minister. He also quotes Mr Nayar saying that Patel had argued with Sheikh Abdullah that Kashmir being a Muslim majority area should go to Pakistan.

For the longest period of time, Ashutosh was known as that journalist whom Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram slapped in 1996. He was seen as an intrepid journalist and consolidated his reputation during his years as a leading news anchor. But the politician Ashutosh has had to shed that sensitivity and toe his party's line, particularly when it comes to defending his leader.

Ashutosh is part of the core Kejriwal team. That he has been suitably sycophantic was evident as he vociferously defended inaction by Mr Kejriwal and others when a farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide during an AAP rally at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in April. A few hours later, Ashutosh profusely apologised for his insensitive words and cried on live television as he was made to face the daughter of the farmer. It was as if the sensitive journalist was still alive within him somewhere.

First Published: Wed, September 02 2015. 21:25 IST