Kumar Ketkar
Kumar Ketkar | Youtube
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Journalists don’t enjoy the luxury of lawyers who can afford to wear two hats, without compromising their professional integrity at some level.

Should journalists enter Rajya Sabha on a political party ticket? That’s a question that gnaws at me after Kumar Ketkar, a friend and early mentor, became the Congress candidate from Maharashtra and the latest journalist to bite into the tempting political apple. While anyone is free to join politics or be an MP, I just wonder whether a RS seat in particular is increasingly seen as a ‘reward’ for ‘services’ rendered. The Upper House membership is afflicted by cronyism and deal making: quid pro quos for favours, past and present, are the order of the day.

Media owners turned netas are even more culpable in this regard, allowing their news channels and newspapers to be shamelessly used by those in political office. Networking/influence peddling, the scent of power and money are often the name of the game rather than a genuine desire to contribute to raising the bar in public life.

Which is why to see Kumar, who is one of our finest journalist intellects, joining the Rajya Sabha, evokes mixed feelings. At one level, he will add to to the diminishing intellectual capital of Parliament, but at another level it leaves him in danger of being further compromised since questions will be raised over whether he was using his role as a television talking head and writer to fuel any political ambition.

To be fair, for some time now, Kumar has been firmly convinced that the BJP under Narendra Modi is a fascist party that must be defeated, and the Congress is the only viable option. The Kumar I know is no sycophant: he is also not the kind who would have angled for a RS seat at any stage unlike many others from my profession who have conveniently shifted their ideology only to stay on the ‘right’ side of those in power (a prominent editor who once condemned Hindutva politics routinely is now a minister in Mr Modi’s government).

Moreover, there is probably nothing like a ‘neutral’ journalist so wearing his political beliefs on his sleeve is his right. But when any individual joins a party he ceases to be an ‘independent’ voice, and a journalist sans independence who cannot tell truth to power is a non sequitur. Net net: journalists don’t enjoy the luxury of lawyers who can afford to wear two hats, without compromising their professional integrity at some level. Once a journalist enters the political domain, he or she, sheds any pretence at independent journalism.

I also believe that for full time editors, like for army chiefs or Supreme Court judges or anyone who holds constitutional posts, there should be ideally a minimum two year hiatus before accepting any political role. Kumar for the last few years has been a freelance journalist so he qualifies to take up a political post by that criteria. Having said all this, am not sure how a back bencher RS MP can actually contribute meaningfully to public life (many of them scarcely get to speak). Knowing Kumar though am sure he will continue to speak out on issues close to his heart.

We have lost a combative journalist of stature, hopefully we will gain an active MP who will represent parliament with honour and dignity. Let’s wish him well and wait to see who is the next journalist/media owner to make the shift. By the way, someone asked me whether I was queuing up to be a RS MP (on Twitter be prepared to be asked anything by anyone). My direct playful answer: no thanks, I already have an RS as my initials! A few years ago, when a regional party chieftain asked me to enter the Rajya Sabha from their party, my answer was a polite: thank you, but no thank you.

It is my unshaken belief that a professional independent journalist must remain just that: an observer and chronicler with strong views but not a player or participant in the tricky game of politics. If you want to join politics, please do so, but quit journalism first!

Published by special arrangement from Rajdeep Sardesai’s website.

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. I guess, journalists have discovered there can be more than one short cut to make money even faster than being a channel and a party mouthpiece. So the latest fads for them are regroup, rename/repackage, revolt, or reform/transform. Each of you is playing one of these four games on us Rajdeep. So we know, when you crib at each other for choosing the other game not same as yours. Rather better you should be happy in your own worlds for the choices you made and live in peace!

    Cribbing is not going to get you anywhere. Not will it stop your neighbour doing what they like to. So your rivals like ArnAB will still revolt and continue to live in false belief to surrender to Mumbai & subordinate to his RSS headquarters, yourself will keep swtiching platforms with colleagues, your fellows will rename and repackage it online and finally, the rest whom you highlight in this article will reform to a new avatar.

    Cribbing if at all should be from us then the helpless consumers. Indeed! why do we need to in the first place buy news from the fifth estate that has become filth estate! We never asked for corruption and got back moral corruption in disguise without even knowing the slow poison it is to be. And yet as we are fish in the same water too, no birds watching from above. So we dont have the base to crib either!

    Which brings me to the final point I make. Journalism did allow you two hats. Only the color of your hat is just a different from the others and also you cant see your own head. So as much as Lawyers (and I fully know who particularly you meant to talk about ) everyone else in the public life is being the magician with the multiple hats juggling around.

    What is unknown is that the citizens see through the jugglery and see throught the game and yet stay silent in the hope that what goes up comes down as well and what doesnt better it doesnt goes for good forever. So let’s chill.. and not warm up the ..

  2. What’s so surprising in this I always saw him as an ardent Congress supporter bashing the Govt regardless of him being a journalist and so independent. Where’s the doubt that he has been rewarded for the services he rendered to his masters. And you make it sound like ‘a cause’ for which he was fighting. I would say None…. He was there for his personal gains.

  3. I am scratching my head to remember anything from him why and how he was one of the ‘finest journalist intellects’ but may be I did not read him enough.
    Anyway, it is better now ! Good relief ! At least now I know where the ‘parti’-san’ stands. I will be able to save my time by ignoring his writing or speaking. Earlier I listened him as a journalist and tried to make sense of his utterances. No need anymore.

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