It’s time for a confession.
This writer is also an honest journalist — at least, in her own estimation — and therefore, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has permission to call me ‘imaandaar’, his preferred adjective for journalists, nowadays.
In at least two television interviews, recently, Akhilesh used the term to describe Amish Devgan (News 18 India) and Anjana Om Kashyap (Aaj Tak). While the former, seemingly taken by surprise by the compliment, could only blurt out ‘Ji’ in response — the video clip has since gone viral — the latter was incensed and gave him a tongue lashing he is unlikely to forget, although to Yadav’s credit, he remained unmoved by her assault and continued the interview as if nothing had happened.
In the course of the said interview, Yadav had claimed that Kashyap was among the most ‘imaandaar’ journalists; Kashyap did not take this as a compliment; rather, she accused him of using this ‘one word’, repeatedly, to hit ‘below the belt’. She accused him of sarcasm — i.e., damning her with faint praise — and of ‘shooting the messenger’. Accomplished political actor that he is, Akhilesh didn’t react, but he didn’t need to — Kashyap’s reaction indicated that his sally had hit home. Later, he handsomely offered to take back the offending word.
Adityanath interviews are different
Honestly, what’s going on here? Why did Akhilesh Yadav turn honesty into a weapon of mockery against these journalists?
Perhaps because he feels that the coverage of the Uttar Pradesh poll-campaign is tilting too much in the BJP’s favour? Perhaps it was a warning from him to TV anchors to treat him more kindly? Perhaps he wants them to treat him the way they do Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath?
Adityanath has been interviewed across Hindi and English news channels — including News 18 India and Aaj Tak — and although he has been asked probing questions, he has been allowed to attack the Opposition and accuse them of all manner of crimes, with impunity. Anchors listen to him almost respectfully (and so might you if your office was in Noida and all opinion polls indicated that he will be the next UP CM).
Yadav, on the other hand, was pressed again and again by Kashyap on a host of issues, including the BJP allegation that his party had been responsible for shooting kar sevaks. Even after Yadav answered the question in his own way, she returned to the topic, repeatedly, finally wanting to know if he would apologise for the shooting.
This is not the way Adityanath is questioned.
Watch his interview on Doordarshan, a few days ago. He spoke almost uninterrupted for long answers to very short questions. (One question was, whose idea was it to visit the Varanasi railway station after midnight during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashi mid December?) It’s pretty much the same everywhere — Adityanath is basically provided with a platform to air his views.
Cut to Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait’s interview on Aaj Tak: he was pestered this way and that, asked many times whether or not he would join politics — it was like the anchor wanted to force him into joining politics even as he denied any desire to do so. Very odd.
Both Akhilesh Yadav and Rakesh Tikait are accustomed to such questioning and have managed to come out of the encounter, relatively unscathed — in fact they utilise the opportunities to hammer home their pet subjects — but that’s not for want of trying by anchors who are uber aggressive with them. This would be fine, if BJP leaders received the same treatment.
It’s all about election and interviews
Priyanka Gandhi, Congress general secretary for Uttar Pradesh, was also at the receiving end of many hard questions in an interview with Mausami Singh, Aaj Tak/India Today. However, Singh did herself proud: she didn’t hesitate to ask Priyanka uncomfortable questions — Prime Minister Modi’s ‘security breach’ in Punjab and why Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi briefed her (Priyanka), the departure of Brahmin leaders from Congress like Jitin Prasada, etc — but she did so civilly and without undue aggression. She was persistent, not insistent, she was polite. Wish all news anchors were like her.
As for Priyanka, she too acquitted herself well. She expressed concern for the incident involving the PM in Punjab, explained how she was briefed on the issue, and answered other questions fairly directly. Interestingly, she avoided attacking politicians by name — or personally. She spoke about what the Congress wanted to do —or not do.
In the coming month, we are likely to see more interviews — a good thing, especially if the virtual poll campaign continues after 15 January.
Speaking of the virtual campaign, the viewer should be grateful for it, otherwise we would be subjected to day-long coverage of rallies, especially those involving the Prime Minister or Adityanath — remember West Bengal last year? From the moment the PM left Delhi to his arrival at the campaign venue, the touchdown of the whirring helicopter, to his cavalcade, the crowds at the rally spot and eventually, to the poll speeches, election campaigns have become an excuse for news channels to sit back and do nothing else. As if no other news existed.
But Covid has left its calling card again, and it’s making news everywhere. So the ‘imaandaar’ thing to do right now for news channels is to track its progress.
And can we have some honest to goodness political interviews, too, please?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)