Indians have heard of the phrase “crony capitalism” more often than they ought to in a country that is officially still socialist. “Crony socialism”, though not much in vogue, is also a phrase that has been used many times. But thanks to Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new phrase has been added into the lexicon – crony journalism.
Consider what first went viral on social media, and was subsequently picked by many sections of the mainstream media as well. Arvind Kejriwal, president of the AAP, had just finished recording an interview with a leading Hindi news channel. The anchor of the show and Kejriwal, perhaps unaware the camera was still rolling, were seen in a conversation on how to manipulate the contents of the interview. This conversation got recorded on candid camera. The contempt that Kejriwal has for the middle class, while not wanting to lose their votes since they are the prime constituency of his TV politics, is what comes across most starkly through that leaked conversation.
The TV anchor, with one of the most prominent Hindi TV news channels, was a willing participant with Kejriwal in this game of fixing perceptions to influence the middle class. In reality, Kejriwal holds exactly the opposite views to what he wants to project. It is part of any journalist’s brief to expose such hypocrisy by politicians. Here however, a journalist was actively colluding to mask this hypocrisy. A journalist, while claiming the privileges of journalism, was doing the job of a public relations agent.
It is not as if this is one off case. Until recently, Ashutosh Gupta was the editor of another popular Hindi news channel. Today, he is one of the most prominent faces of the AAP. Ashish Khetan, a former journalist with Tehelka and the founder of gulail.com, has been given the AAP ticket from the New Delhi seat.
All these journalists, even a few days before they became formally aligned with the AAP, were wearing the fig leaf of professional journalism. With the leaked conversation in public, exposing how journalists are willing participants in manipulating coverage, legitimate questions will be raised about the coverage of the AAP from other journalists as well, those now formally aligned with the AAP and those who are crypto-AAP members.
But what about Kejriwal? He who judges everyone? He who says all are in collusion and only he and his party are the ones trying to break this collusion? He who only walks the straight and narrow path? He who only says what he believes in and does not ever say something he does not believe in? How do we judge Kejriwal now?
How do we judge Kejriwal, who is willing to essentially put in public domain a view that is contrary to what he believes in, just to get middle class votes? How do we judge Kejriwal who treats his electors, the middle class, with disdain?
The answers to all these questions are simple – we judge Kejriwal just the way we judge Lalu Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav or Asaduddin Owaisi.
Each of these three mouth platitudes, but practice exactly the opposite of what they say. Lalu Yadav, without even a hint of irony, claims to fight against corruption just a few days after being convicted in one of the biggest corruption cases. Akhilesh Yadav claims he is from the most secularized party, a claim even the professional secularists now treat with contempt. And of course Owaisi claims to battle for religious harmony, while at the same time defending his younger brother who has been accused by police, based on video evidence, of making the most incendiary speeches in recent decades.
In that sense, Kejriwal is not really different from these run-of-the-mill politicians. He, too, does not practice what he preaches. Or is there one vital difference? That while other politicians are merely hypocritical and cynical, Kejriwal, in addition to these traits, also has immense disdain for the voters? For it is Kejriwal, and not other politicians, who believes he can fashion an entire electoral victory by merely fixing media perception and deluding the voters. Is it the case that unlike any other politician or political party in India, Kejriwal’s entire campaign is built on delusion?
Akhilesh Mishra is an experienced marketing professional, having worked in many multinational companies. He is also a volunteer for the BJP's 2014 election campaign. He tweets at @amishra77. All views are personal.