Scindia, Journalists and Phoolan Devi
The death of four journalists along with Madhavrao Scindia is being mourned by the media. But nobody has asked the question what these journalists ? Anju Sharma of the Hindustan Times, Sanjiv Sinha of the Indian Express, Ranjan Jha of the television news channel Aaj Tak, and Gopal Bisht, cameraman for Aaj Tak ? were doing with Scindia on a private flight. Veterans of the political beat take pride in their contacts with big netas ? ostensibly for news, but also for "plants" and other favours that come along, sometimes unasked-for. I have known reporters covering a party fall in love with it; they lose all perspective and begin to behave like party spokespersons; and they would go to any length to oblige leaders they get close to.
Fellow-journalists may disapprove of my wrong sense of timing in raising this issue, but after Scindia's death and the fact that four journalists died with him, I think forces us ? at least those of us who believe in ethics and responsibility, and in criticising oursleves ? to get some perspective on what is happening. On September 30 2001, Scindia (who was carelessly described by most television and newspaper reporters as Maharaja though this monarchic-feudal institution has been scrapped) was flying to Kanpur for a Congress rally. How important was this rally for four Delhi journalists to fly along? Could not Indian Express or HT have deputed their Kanpur reporters to do the job? Why did Sanjeev Sinha or Anju Sharma have to fly all the way? Did they go to Kanpur when Muslims were killed there some months ago? Why not then, why now? How much space/time would Express, HT or Aaj Tak have given to Scindia's rally ? what was the rally all about anyway? A single column in the papers, if at all; and 30 seconds perhaps on the TV channel. Would we have known at all about the Scindia rally had not the plane crashed and all onboard died? If there had been no mishap, we would perhaps have never known that Anju Sharma, Sanjiv Sinha, Ranjan Jha and Gopal Bisht had made the trip.
Congress leader Priyaranjan Dasmunshi broke down while being interviewed by Rajdeep Sardesai for Star News. Besides mourning the death of Scindia, he was equally pained by the death of "Ranjon" who, he told us, used to come to him (Dasmunshi) and Scindia every morning for dope. Such politician-journalist intimacy is vulgar.
Another thing about the post-Scindia news coverage struck me: When Phoolan Devi died neither politicians nor journalists felt so bereaved. The usual sensational aspects about her pre-parliament life were dug up, but none of them felt the kind of pain they felt for Scindia. An ex-Maharaja can of course curry more favours to journos than an ex-dacoit can. Some journalists like Vir Sanghvi even drooled over Scindia's "good looks" and "sophistication" on TV. Only Maharajas have these classy-castey attributes you see, not the janata who have fought their way up from the Chambal ravines.
Some editors mourned the loss of a "personal friend" in Scindia. But why did we not see such outpourings for Phoolan? Why were journalists appalled that somebody could think of nominating Phoolan for the Nobel Peace Prize? Why do the prime minister and other mighties attend the Scinida funeral and not Phoolan's? Why do we suck up to feudalism and icons of casteist power and not respect a woman who stood up and fought it in so many ways? Phoolan was either hated ? or romanticised by the likes of Pankaj Kapur ? for fighting the violence inherent in our casteist and patriarchal system with violence. She was reviled, not taken seriously, when she sought the parliamenatry route. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.