It outsources opposition’s job to the media and taunts it for failing to do it. A political party must do its job first. And, for heaven’s sake, display some hunger and hard work, not lazy entitlement.

At the release of P. Chidambaram’s latest collection of essays, Speaking Truth to Power, the first question was, curiously, an indictment of the media. Why is it doing nothing to “oppose” the BJP government? Why has it prostrated itself before the BJP? Is it because of fear, or greed, or both?

There may be some truth to all these, but the larger reality is different: can the Congress outsource its job of opposing the government to the media? Congress leaders criticise the media often enough for “doing nothing”. The most notable was Rahul Gandhi himself taunting journalists during the Gujarat campaign. On 16 November, he asked a reporter: “You ask me so many questions and I answer you properly…Why don’t you ask the PM about the Rafale deal? He changed the whole deal for the benefit of one businessman. Why don’t you ask questions about Amit Shah’s son?”

So here is a question for the Congress: How does a major political force in opposition, with notions of returning to power as early as 16 months from now (in May 2019), expect the media to play its role of opposition? Meanwhile, many of its own leaders, who will then line up to constitute this future cabinet of their dreams, live on an extended sabbatical, or focus on their businesses.

We the media have many flaws, although all of us can’t be characterised by a couple of commando-comic channels. Besides these, I do not know of many major—or new—organisations that will hold back a story because of fear. Pressures on the media are a reality, and nobody knows that better than NDTV, which is broadcasting this discussion on Chidambaram’s book release. I am one hundred per cent sure, however, that none of this makes the channel hold back on any great, adversarial story its reporters might bring.

So, let’s state the first principles first. The thought that the media is letting down the opposition. The media has to question the government for sure. But it isn’t expected to do the opposition’s job for it.

In some ways, usually, it is the other way around. Opposition leaders mine data and information (often through Parliament and its committees where they have access), or from their own networks, especially if they have been in power, or through the unions as Left MPs (notably Gurudas Dasgupta) often do, and bring these to the media. I have edited a newspaper during long spells of BJP/NDA and Congress rule. I can say with certainty—and specific examples—that the BJP made an enormously better party in opposition than Congress. Sharp, hard-working, fleet-footed, focused, and most importantly, humble. Always bringing journalists the one gift they really value: a story, or at least a tip-off. Unlike the Congress, which is oozing entitlement, bumbling, bitching about its own, selfish, lazy, and most arrogant.

Or you can find milder descriptions for an idea as touchingly imperious as to ask why is the media not doing its (read: opposition’s) job? Somebody bring out the violin please, and tug at all our hearts a little more.

When Vajpayee was in power, the paper I edited broke the biggest scams: NHAI engineer Satyendra Dubey’s murder in Bihar, the “plot” scam (a long series of exposes on how the government was giving plots of institutional land to Sangh Parivar affiliates), an endless series on usual suspects of corporate India flunking their loan payments to government banks, many with political connections and so on. The one thing that characterised these was the half-heartedness with which the Congress responded.

Several Congress leaders called to say “be kind to this borrower” or the other, some said “boss, so-and-so is my client, yaar, jaane do”, some also attributed their friends’ bad fortune in business to NDA policies. Another story, on tribal and minority Gujaratis being denied MGNREGA wages (a story denied by the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat), brought an entirely unexpected reply from the Congress leadership: let it be, our MP and leaders from that constituency say things aren’t so bad.

How much dedication did the Congress party show to the fight for justice of the Gujarat 2002 victims? It “outsourced” it fully to activists—Teesta Setalvad, Tehelka, Ashish Khetan and so on. The media and the civil society all did their job.

For the record, The Indian Express, which I then edited, won the first of its three International Press Institute (IPI) awards for its coverage of the Gujarat riots. But the Congress? Forget outsourcing its role as the opposition to the media, it also outsourced its politics in Gujarat to a fried-in-desi ghee RSS man, Shankersinh Vaghela. Its own leaders were, meanwhile, running their own “peacetime” lives, some notables happily cutting deals for their own businesses with the government, a fact Sonia Gandhi had noted with anger and pain.

The BJP? Within days of losing resoundingly in 2009, it was on battle stations, with a new plan. Corruption was chosen as the weapon of the UPA’s mass destruction. Within a year, we heard the name of Anna Hazare. An outreach was made to civil society activists and even UPA’s own key civil servants in key positions. Jantar Mantar and then Ramlila Maidan were filled with swayamsevaks. The result was a most spectacular turning of tables.

There is much wrong with the media today. But it can’t be such a concern for the Congress. It has to do its own job first—finding facts and issues to oppose the government of the day, rebuild its platform and party organisation and, for heaven’s sake, display some selflessness, ambition, not entitlement.

I do not know of a recent case where a hard-working, committed Congressman gifted with some intellect approached anybody in the media saying: “Hey, we found this out, this will truly embarrass this government. Will you be able to run it?”

The message is more like, “Please don’t bother me, I am on sabbatical, with my books, my legal practice and my businesses. Of course, keep my number for when I return to power.”

24 Comments Share Your Views

24 COMMENTS

  1. Very rightly said Shekharji! Congress needed this dissection. In fact what I feel, every congressman must read this article and get back to the role of active opposition. The past references given by you are very relevant and sufficient to let Congress to wake up.It is true that BJP was a better opposition party compared to the congress may be because of bjp’s cadre base discipline.The hunger to regain power is there within the Congress but they must get away with their tendency to try for power as per their convenience and work hard to give the feel to the masses that “yes we want this party to run the country”.

    • So true… I don’t believe they’ll get off the slumber. The fact remains that Congress don’t know how to work as opposition!!

  2. You think any of these worthies have the stomach , reputation and ability to work honestly and gather information to rattle a Govt. under Modi’s formidable reputation of Clean , honest and able administrative image ? Just in case you have forgotten their loot and scoot politics from Sonia Gandhi or ‘ Chit Reader ‘ Rahul Gandhi to private empires abroad Head Cook Chidambaram or Over – Eaten Ghulam Azad or Hindu Baiters like Ahmed Patel and Salman Khurshid or Chamcha Politics of Diggy Raja or Zero-Loss fame Kapil Sibal et al , who can the carry the day with their smelly background ? Well , now , compare them with that one relentless crusader , Mr. Prashant Bhushan , who day after day rattles somebody or the other with some news , stories or scams ?

  3. I completely agree. They need to show more hunger for power, right now there is a poverty. I believe they are too optimistic and will be happy if a few states come their way.

  4. Excellently articulated…. But weren’t you opposing too on your own??? Why this sudden response? Is it because PC wrote this? This article should have come long back.

  5. Fully agree. Congress is banking on the possibility of BJP’s failures. It is expecting BJP to crumble under its own weight which will return Congress to power just like Indira Gandhi returned after short Janata Party experiment. They are salivating at the prospect of sailing on the ‘anti incumbency’ factor – not only in 2019 general elections but also in the BJP-ruled states like MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Congress leaders are elite (look how they have put all their energy in opposing Aadhar in Supreme Court) and do not feel like to soil their feet in the dust and mud of the Bharat where the real politics belongs too. They are trying to do politics from the courtrooms, drawing rooms, and (their own) media rooms of India. Look how arrogantly and confidently their spokespersons rebut – not the BJP arguments but, any notions brought out against their own Congress Party.

  6. There is something very fishy about Rahul Gandhi. It is like someone who has safely stashed away the goodies, and now pretending to stand for the poor, with a slight smirk on his face. The perception needs to improve or he may prove to be the Achilles heel of the Congress.

  7. Asking questions may be the privilege in democracy, but to reply also is always an option& the option is exercised by the opposition for the reason whatsoever. It’s a universal truth that if some one doesn’t perform his duty, the first performer steps to replace, so is media doing -rightly or wrongly with it’s intellect, courage, conviction & ability. Simultaneously such person/opposition gets support& push to continue as it is,by a section of such performer-press-person.

  8. It takes a lot of guts for a media writer to question the Congress, ironically to what P.Chitambaram insinuates in his essay. So, I applaud your courage.

    In any case, the subject addressed is much more crucial than the average reader of this article may understand in a media driven country where any media usually confesses that it has already sold it’s loyalty to the UPA, of both greed as well as fear. You can tell based on the way a journalist biased his article as to who’s funding his media.

    Considering this, a member of the Congress accusing the media is just… foreplay. It’s also a confession by the Congress that they have already run out of substance (as if they had much to begin with) to get back at the ruling party.

    For all that the words of a civilian like me could be worth, this is my two pence on the subject.

  9. Well said Shekharji. The key word in your writeup is entitlement and the Congress certainly behaves in that way. As one reader has responded, they dont want to get their hands dirty. Truly as an opposition, they are no match for the BJP. It seems they believe that being in opposition is just a temporary phenomenon and BJP will commit mistakes to hand over the reins to them once again. Wishful thinking!!!

  10. This was evident from Day 1 of BJP victory in 2014. Congress had to do nothing to come back to power – only BJP had to fail, or perceived to have failed.
    There are many tangible alternatives to the congress on the Left but it is fragmented. hope they rally around in 16 months time.

  11. They should learn from.Amit shah who is out of his house for all 365 days of the year.And here congress is waiting for incumbancy to do everything for them.Let them be out of their cosy beds.This is golden chance for them

  12. I can ask: Why are you giving an opinion Mr Shekhar Gupta. It appears that you have chosen, consciously, to be a bystander and claim that you are objective! All stands are “political”. You ask yourself, what is the role of “media”? Is it to be a “bystander” even when there is injustice, anarchy, murder infront of your eyes. Mr Shekhar Gupta, you are justifying your silence for whatever reason – fear, currying favor or just plain lack of a spine. Ethically you are compromised & are now justifying your moral surrender. Media stands up for all unethical behavior not because it is supposed to oblige the opposition. Media is also the opposition when powers be unethical.

  13. मीडिया तो हिन्दुवों के खिलाफ पूरा जोर लगा रहा है , लेकिन अब मीडिया की कोई औकात नहीं रही
    राहुल के कहना भी सही है , कांग्रेसी हलवा पूरी खाने वाले , भाजपा में समीकरण बना रहे हैं
    ईसाई मालिक तो नाराज होगा ही

  14. What is your wish Mr Shekhar? Congress is not good at opposition and BJP was better.
    So should we reverse the role?

  15. Shekhar Gupta is absolutely wrong. It is to inform people that media except few are taking pro govt stand and hasn’t relinquish its responsibility at the interest of the nation. Opposition leaders are performing well

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