- How did your initiation into journalism happen?
My teacher had suggested that I should become a journalist. So I tried pursuing that direction but did not know anything about the profession. I tried in many places but did not get a job. Finally I got the job of sorting letters in NDTV. Gradually, I became a translator, copied pieces for other people at the desk, started reporting and then began anchoring. There was no fluke in my life. It took every single day’s hard work; there were a few coincidences and many people’s help for where I am today.
- What is your take on reservation?
People are being told many incorrect things about reservation. Reservation is the only thing that has brought a big chunk of people from the absolute bottom to the forefront of society in a very less amount of time. It seems that we have reservation everywhere but the truth is it isn’t implemented in 75% of the cases. There are so many Secretaries in the country. No one got their job through reservation. We should look at that. Every country has a social policy. When common people retire, even they get reservation. When India became independent, there was this very big community that didn’t have any clothes to wear or food to eat. That community was brought to the mainstream through reservation. First, we need to learn to appreciate it.
- Sushma Swaraj said a few days back that we should make Hindi an official language in the United Nations. Being a Hindi journalist and author, do you support this?
This UN thing is a very big drama. You can go and speak in any language at the United Nations. What will happen if it gets enlisted in the UN? Can you name any language that gained popularity because it is in UN’s list? Many times, ministers don’t have anything to say. So they invoke these false aspirations within you. You can go to USA and speak in Hindi or Bengali to people who understand the language. Why would I like to go somewhere and speak in a language where nobody will understand me? Nothing will be achieved by making Hindi an official language at the UN. It’s a completely bogus thing and we should come out of this ‘UN-baazi’. When UN doesn’t even have a role in international politics, what role will it play in languages? It is we who can carry our language forward, not UN. What is the government doing in India to promote Hindi? In Kolkata, it is the people who have kept Bengali alive, not any government.
- You have time and again repeated in your shows that for journalists, ‘criticism from the government is a badge of honour’. However, today we see that many famous news channels are playing sycophancy towards the government. What is your take on this?
This is a very serious matter. India’s democracy has always faced some kind of challenge. Today, one among the top three threats to our democracy is the news channels. News channels are not only practicing ‘embedded journalism’ but are also damaging the fabric of democracy of this country. People should become alert about this. Now, they are taking it as a joke and making fun of anchors but these anchors have made their narrative a weapon and the entire discourse goes as the government wants it to be. People’s voices have been throttled. Every democracy has a culture. These anchors are continuously hammering the thinking process of the common masses. Television has already caused so much damage that now, you can’t undo it. There are 500-600 channels in this country. Out of these, at least 90% have become diseased. It is converting our society into an anarchic society.
- What provoked you to write ‘The Free Voice’?
I was already in the process of writing this. Especially after 2014, the attacks on people who dared to ask questions kept on increasing. Threats were being sent out. If you are a girl, your character is assassinated. The same happened with boys. You’re being called anti-national, pro-Pakistan or pro-terrorism. So I felt that there was no voice. If we, whose job is to speak, are not being allowed to speak, then how will the common people speak? I observed that many people were too scared to comment publicly on my Facebook page. They personally message me saying, ‘Actually you’re right but I am scared to say this openly because I’m afraid of the trolls’. The book has a chapter called robo-democracy. Even our Prime Minister speaks the language of Whatsapp. He gives validity to the Whatsapp circulations. A bunch of people have been prepared who can act as a mob anytime. They are completely equipped with wrong sense of history, facts and wrong kind of reasoning. They are anti-reason. They will just come and kill you. They can do anything. They picked up swords in Bengal during Ram Navami. There might be a tradition of weapon-worship but you can do it inside your home, why do you have to make a public display of it? You should reflect on what is happening. If they are a political party then why are they always bringing religion to the forefront? They should come in the cover of their policies. And now, they are the dominant force. Even West Bengal has the same condition. I heard that people have made bullet proof jackets out of tin during the Panchayat Elections here. So, within a few days every political party will start having their own militia and we’ll be having civil wars throughout the day. People are going to fight wearing their tin jackets and helmets. We don’t just have a threat from the dominant party of the country but also from all other political parties.
- How would you define nationalism?
I don’t think it is anything very great. If it had so much power, then no minister in Karnataka would have asked for money. What is the lifespan of nationalism? Not even 200 years. Dinosaurs got extinct within 600-700 years. So, even this will pass by. This is a bogus idea. It is only used to scare people. Where did nationalism disappear now in Karnataka? We should understand the practicality of nationalism. It shouldn’t become a programme of threatening and scaring people. If one wants to understand nationalism, they should start reading. There are many books like Irfan Habib’s book called ‘On Nationalism’. If you don’t want to read much, read Tagore. You’ll understand the limitations of nationalism. What have we achieved from this nationalism? Talk about the system. Talk about the equity in the system, the fast deliverance of justice. You can’t even do an enquiry on a judge’s death. IT officers do raids on politicians of the Opposition for every single thing. So, why can’t you do a simple enquiry? The debate that has been going on over nationalism over the past 4 years has been conducted only by television channels. They had a massive amount of distortion and hooliganism. It was literally gundagardi. They were scaring people presuming that people are against nationalism. No one is against nationalism. Everyone loves India. But that same nation-loving person is taking bribes, running trains late, lying about the Constitution. So if a person can do all these things even after loving their country, then what kind of love is this?
- India, in spite of being the world’s largest democracy, ranked 136 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. What amount of freedom is given to journalists here compared to other countries?
It is good that one or two newspapers or individuals are resisting the throttling down of the media in this country. But the human resource through which we know a city, story or political party has been absolutely finished. Nowadays, there’s only stardom. Hindi newspapers are in a terrible condition. They didn’t have the courage to criticize one single policy of Narendra Modi in the past 4 years. They find greatness in everything. They have become cowards. The first danger sign in a democracy is when the media is brazen down. India’s media is finished by all standards. This is the sign through which we should understand that the problem is now visible on the surface of the skin and the disease is now here to stay for long. The reason is that news channels now belong to all this big corporate powerhouses having political alliances. So, how will you get correct information? The diversity of pathways has been destroyed. But if there is public awareness then the public can check this. They can say that if you can’t ask the right questions then we’ll not buy your news. After all, out of so many English newspapers, why do the people of Delhi wake up every morning and tweet the front page of The Telegraph? This means that a desire is still alive within them- that a newspaper should be like this; this should be the language of a newspaper every morning. Why don’t they do it with Delhi’s newspapers? Why has Delhi’s newspapers become like this in spite of the fact that there are experts and bigshots sitting there with their expert opinion about the power structure? They’ll sit with papers telling you what happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But no one bothers about what is happening now. No one is going to tell you that. I don’t know for how long I am in this field or for how long I will be allowed to stay here but you people should make a note everyday in your personal diary that this is being done to our media. And this is not a matter of joke. I’m not just saying this here. If the Prime Minister was sitting next to me, I would’ve told him that this is your political legacy- you’ve created a mob in the streets and a similar one in the drawing rooms of people through a mob-television and mob-media. So, now we won’t be free from mobs anywhere. Social media, television, roads- there are mobs everywhere. They’ll suddenly come with swords and kill you. Everyday some people come up to abuse threaten me saying we’ll shoot you. Why would you shoot me? What have I done? This is the cost of saying the truth. In fact, we don’t even know what is going on inside the ministries. We don’t know the entire truth. We’re only getting some information through the data in the public forum. You saw what happened with Gauri Lankesh. Now it is the public who has to fight for their space. There is no other way.
- What is your message for young journalists?
I would just say that you should read a lot. Work hard every day for your understanding. Write everyday and speak every day. Write more on social media compared to what you write in your newspaper, speak more than that at a tea shop or while travelling in a bus or ship. I am saying this because I always do this. I don’t waste a single second of my life. I tell whoever I meet these (subjects discussed in the interview) are the dangers. Whenever I get a chance, I write about it. This should be done by everybody. We should multiply this force. Imagine, 100 years back, how much media did the people fighting against the British have in their hands. Penetration of media was very less during the Emergency. But what did the common people do with Indira Gandhi then? Now things have changed. A crowd-mentality is being formed with the help of media. These people will support the politicians no matter what happens. All kinds of reasoning and facts have been suspended from among the masses. A journalist’s role is known only during an adverse situation. A journalist doesn’t remain a journalist during comfortable situations. They do some kind of poetic writing then. But the moment the situation becomes adverse, your test of whether the element of this profession still remains within you or not begins. Hai toh test dijiye. If the element doesn’t remain then practice sycophancy.