New Delhi: The sudden demise of Congress’ national spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi just after participating in a live TV debate Wednesday has triggered a conversation about the nature of such debates, with several party leaders, including Ahmed Patel, saying how news debates have been reduced to a “potentially fatal activity”.
Some party leaders even accused BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra of using “vile language” against Tyagi, while others demanded his arrest.
Tyagi was last seen at a 5-pm debate on Aaj Tak channel on the issue of Bengaluru violence that took place earlier this week, where Patra was also a participant.
Doctors at Yashoda Hospital in Ghaziabad, where Tyagi was taken to by the family, said it was during the TV debate Tyagi suffered a heart attack and he passed away soon after.
“Rajiv Tyagi was participating in a live TV debate from his home. Suddenly, he collapsed… His family members saw him unconscious and he was brought here to the hospital at around 6.30 pm Wednesday. He was not responding. He did not have a pulse… After 45 minutes of treatment, we declared him dead,” said Dr Padam Singh Pal, the emergency head at the hospital.
Dr Sunil Dagar, chief operating officer of the hospital, told ThePrint that while Tyagi did not suffer from any chronic ailment, he did have cholesterol issues.
“As told to us by the family, he was having some cholesterol and BP issues for which he used to take medicines,” he said.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel tweeted, asking TV channel editors and anchors to introspect about how news debates have been reduced to a “potentially fatal activity”.
“It is high time TV channel owners, editors and anchors introspect on how some in the industry have reduced news debates into a meaningless, poisonous and potentially fatal activity. At times words can have the same impact as bullets,” he wrote.
It is high time TV channel owners , editors and anchors introspect on how some in the industry have reduced news debates into a meaningless , poisonous and potentially fatal activity.
At times words can have the same impact as bullets.
— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) August 13, 2020
Gaurav Pandhi, national coordinator of Congress’ Digital Communications, tweeted a portion of the debate, and said no Congress worker should ever forget the language used by Patra for Tyagi.
“Look at the discourse. Just see the vile language being used by scoundrel @sambitswaraj for Rajiv Tyagi ji…” Pandhi wrote.
Every Congress worker, volunteer, supporter should watch this video. Shri Rajiv Tyagi was on this debate & immediately after he passed away.
Look at the discourse. Just see the vile language being used by scoundrel @sambitswaraj for Rajiv Tyagi ji.
NEVER FORGET THIS. NEVER! pic.twitter.com/uaEdsyYOP8
— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) August 12, 2020
In the debate, whose video is now being widely circulated on social media, Patra can be heard saying, “Tika lagane se koi saccha Hindu nahi ban jaata hai. Tika lagana hai na toh dil mein laga tika aur himmat hai toh kaho kisne ghar jalaya hai…(No one becomes a true Hindu by just wearing a tika. If you have to apply tika, you should apply it on your heart, and if you have courage then say who burnt the house.”
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also addressed the matter asking, “For how long will toxic debates and poisonous spokespersons cost the lives of patient and moderate voices?”
Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, meanwhile, wrote a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar Thursday, asking him to enforce a strict media code of conduct to “curb sensationalist, slanderous and toxic nature of televised media debates” in light of Tyagi’s demise.
My letter to I&B Minister Sh @PrakashJavdekar Ji requesting him to issue an advisory to Media to enforce a Code of Conduct to curb Slanderous,Sensationalist & Toxic TV Debates-High time to reinforce civility & mutual respect for sake of well being of participants & democracy pic.twitter.com/z3ooQjbX5f
— Jaiveer Shergill (@JaiveerShergill) August 13, 2020
ThePrint reached Patra via phone calls and texts, but there was no response from him until the publication of this report.
However, BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal said it is “preposterous” to link Tyagi’s death with what transpired in the debate.
“I have personally known Rajiv for a very long time and have been in innumerable debates with him. It is unfortunate that his death is being politicised like this. Toxic debates run across the board, and many Congress people are guilty of it as well. To attribute Rajiv’s death to utterances in a debate is preposterous,” Mittal told ThePrint.
‘Boycott TV debates’
Some Congress members even demanded Patra’s arrest, blaming him for Tyagi’s death.
Dansari Anasuya, All India Mahila Congress General Secretary and an MLA from Telangana, tweeted a picture of Tyagi on his deathbed, and used the hashtag #ArrestSambitPatra in the tweet.
“The Teeka, the symbol of Hindu Faith that Sambit Patra insulted is yet not wiped off Rajiv Tyagi’s forehead. Decide who is insulting the faith, who is endangering the religion. RIP SIR,” she wrote.
Another party member, Gurpreet Kaur Chadha, vice-president of the Mumbai Mahila Congress, requested party leader Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders to “boycott TV debates”. She also demanded “justice” for Tyagi, while asking for Patra’s arrest.
National campaign-incharge of Youth Congress Y.B. Srivatsa said the media needs to stop “shouting matches”, “especially with the likes of Patra”.
One can see Rajiv Tyagi feeling uneasy during the debate. A true congressman who fought till his last breath on the principles he believed in.
Also, its time media stops these toxic shouting matches that they call debates, especially with likes of Patrapic.twitter.com/wkMUDysDCS
— Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) August 12, 2020
Supriya Shrinate, national spokesperson of the Congress, said she wouldn’t like to jump the gun on what caused Tyagi’s heart attack, but added that editors must introspect.
“I have been a TV anchor myself in the past. So I know that TV debates can be civil and dignified if wanted. The onus lies on each one of us, including the anchor,” Shrinate told ThePrint.
“The slanderous debate does take a toll on each of us participating. The mudslinging and the shouting is just pathetic,” Shrinate added.
‘TV debates verbal equivalent of an akhada’
TV news anchors, however, are divided on how much blame can be attributed to live debates.
Anchor and editor at India Today channel Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted that “daily polarised TV debates” that indulge in personal attacks and “slanging matches are toxic and injurious to health”.
Have said this for a while now.. Daily polarised TV debates that encourage personal attacks and end up as slanging matches are toxic and injurious to health (both to the anchor and the participants).. news above noise folks! May we all learn!🙏
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) August 12, 2020
Priya Sahgal, senior executive editor and anchor at News X channel, said: “TV debates have become the verbal equivalent of an akhada (wrestling arena)”.
“The debates have indeed become very acrimonious. Conversations take a backseat,” Sahgal told ThePrint.
However, she added that it would be wrong to blame Patra for the events that transpired.
“It’s very easy to blame Sambit for this. I am not talking about this particular case, but Sambit can be very rational and calm too, as he has been in my debates. So I think it matters who is moderating the debate, and also who he is pitted against,” Sahgal said.