Arun Jaitley‘s “proximity” to the media, to put it mildly, was New Delhi’s worst-kept secret. Actually, South Delhi’s worst-kept secret, because beyond the southern borders of the BJP headquarters, nobody cared a flying fig for the man whose mass base, as Arun Shourie once put it, consisted of “six journalists” (here, here).
Jaitley’s “affable” nature, his “telegenic face”, his “articulation”, his “helpful nature”—adjectives poured into his funeral pyre—was shorthand for one of the most well-oiled PR machineries in Lutyens Delhi, which at one level enabled a pompous unelected, unelectable, politician to grandstand on the “tyranny of the unelected“.
At another level, of course, it was the cover for “environment-friendly journalism”: the source of motivated plants against political rivals, vicious gossip against party colleagues—and “papers” which the TV studio warriors picked up from the “Todarmal Lane School of Journalism” during the day and presented as “exclusives” at 9 pm.
As an Economic Times journalist tweeted at the height of the UPA-II “scams”, it was only fair that these media houses gave Arun Jaitley a byline for their “exposes”.
Guess you didn’t hear the words “Cash for Votes” over the weekend?
Handing Arun Jaitley the Information and Broadcasting portfolio in 2014, on top of finance, was, therefore, a masterstroke by Narendra Modi in the manufacture of consent for majoritarian excesses. There was now a single window for controlling licenses and permissions, and for unleashing the taxman or keeping them at bay.
Fall in line, or else.
Phone calls ensured who would be Editor or not, which anchor which front which show and take what line, which corporate could start a channel. Greenhorn “political editors” were placed in organisations with the dexterity of a bonsai artist, a process which had begun in 2004 but gained greater currency with the dawn of civilisation in 2014.
Little wonder, Jaitley earned the sobriquet “Bureau Chief“, for the “extraordinary influence he wields at two large-selling national dailies where his favourite journalists run political bureaus” to start with, but a task so onerous and performed with such aplomb over time, that it now takes two possibly more.
Guess you didn’t hear the words “Electoral Bonds“, possibly the most corrupt scheme unleashed by the Modi government to lubricate Indian politics, over the weekend?
Little wonder, therefore, that Arun Jaitley’s death resulted in a welter of personal grief from reporters, editors, anchors, and owners almost all of them serving in the National Capital Region, and most of whom dropped any sense of distance or detachment from their friend, source, mentor, benefactor, headhunter—and walking mate.
Since this is the age of “Om Shanti”, very few journalists could say “Rest in Peace” like Sankarshan Thakur of The Telegraph, and the freelance writer Swati Chaturvedi.
Since this is the age of preening, few could even admit that they didn’t know Jaitley, the journalist turned comic Akash Banerjee being one.
It’s one thing for someone like Rajat Sharma of India TV who knew Jaitley for nearly 50 years from college, or Jaitley’s adversary from his students’ union days, Vinod Sharma of Hindustan Times, to express a genuine sense of loss.
But for a Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN News18 to bring up his school? Seriously.
For the likes of former journalists Kanchan Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta, it was the loss of a “mentor” figure, whatever that means.
For the now legendary Navika Kumar of Times Now and former NDTV presenter Barkha Dutt it was an inexplicably a lot more, although by day’s end, Dutt couldn’t understand what the hoo-ha was all about.
Supriya Shrinate, the ET Now presenter who quit to contest the 2019 general elections wrote an elaborate panegyric on Facebook.
For Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News, it was an occasion to demonstrate the “proximity” with a recent selfie.
More than one journalist suggested having had a meal with the great foodie.
For the younger breed of 1990s journalists, it was time to remember the hand-holding on the beat or at the durbar.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, the more restrained and therefore the more revealing, tributes came from Prabhu Chawla of The New Indian Express, and Rahul Kanwal of Aaj Tak.
Initially, Archis Mohan of Business Standard took the high moral ground of not speaking ill of the dead but soon had to point out the obvious: Jaitley’s role in “plotting the rise of our current rulers”.
A surprising voice of sanity in the pappi-jhappi fest was Abhijit Majumdar, the former Mail Today editor who now runs a website.
Only Rohini Singh formerly of The Economic Times went on record to show that Arun Jaitley disliked her.
But more than a few journalists went out of their way to point to the devious, insidious, behind-the-scenes role Arun Jaitley played in their careers or organisations.
Not surprisingly, given the fawning media culture in spawning which Arun Jaitley had a major role, Naveen Kapoor of ANI had to dutifully retweet a standard BJP tribute with the certificate “great tribute”.
And there was some poetry too.
The owners piped in too: Anant Goenka of The Indian Express, Raghav Bahl of The Quint, and Shekhar Gupta of The Print.
But by day’s end, it was difficult for most journalists to separate the personal from the political, save S. Prasannarajan of Open magazine, and Shekhar Iyer, former political editor of Deccan Herald and Hindustan Times.
It took mostly journalists from outside South Delhi—Jency Jacob, Kavitha Rao, Parth M.N—to point out how all this outpouring was cringe-worthy.
Update: Navika Kumar of Times Now has exited a WhatsApp group of women journalists after being mocked on her tweet on Jaitley.