Heated exchanges on political issues are too commonplace on social media, but does that mean journalists are not entitled to their opinions? And, does harbouring an opinion that is not in sync with the ruling party - whether at the state or central level - mean that the concerned journalist is a "spokesperson" of a particular political party or a mouthpiece of the regime?
The announcement of the new surge pricing scheme for premium trains run by the Indian Railways has seen a variety of reactions and a whole range of viewpoints on social media. India Today TV's Rahul Kanwal, who has been advocating that railway services fares should reflect the changing times for years now, was point blank about the "political opportunism" in keeping the fares artificially low, even for premium trains.
|Rahul Kanwal's thoughts on surge pricing in railways didn't go down with AAP ministers. Photo: Twitter (Rahul Kanwal)|
Naturally, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has a "pro-common man" stance on most issues, disagreed, and that's perfectly fine.
But what was not acceptable was the tone and tenor of the disagreement.
Deputy chief minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, made the slightly sarcastic opening remark, which is fair play on Indian Twitter. Kanwal returned the ball to Sisodia's court as courteously as possible, emphasising that the lesser off were not really impacted by railway minister Suresh Prabhu's decision.
@msisodia No good service comes for free. If passengers want railway services to improve, they must be willing to pay for it.— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
@msisodia if the poor were forced to pay more, then political attacks would be warranted. Nothing wrong with surge pricing on premium trains— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
But what was not okay was the utterly trollish, churlish and insulting tweet that followed, this time from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Modi ji's spokesperson gets angry ... https://t.co/0FTdyhnoeN— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) September 7, 2016
@ArvindKejriwal having contrarian view doesn't make one a spokesperson. But to appreciate this requires higher level of evolution than yours— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
Rahul Kanwal's effective repartee notwithstanding, is this becoming of a chief minister to peg every disagreement - whether with fellow political leaders within his own party, or with senior journalists such as Rahul Kanwal - on the other party just being a "Modi toady", or a "Modi stooge"?
Whatever happened to politeness and courtesy during exchanging political views?
This is what happens when trolls get elected Chief Ministers! https://t.co/tPxm184Esv— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
@msisodia and did you see what honourable CM said? To have an argument like you are having is one thing, to cast aspersions quite another!— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
If senior politicians start behaving like bhakts and internet trolls, can we expect any better from politically unaware, anonymous users online?
We all might be all foolish! But what happened to your Higher Evolved personality? As you claimed about yourself! https://t.co/FnDJEgW9EI— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) September 7, 2016
@msisodia no one said anything about you being a troll. Why are you adding yourself to this category?— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
Politics is being reduced to personality clashes between rival political leaders, but when you accuse a journalist who has a track record of asking unsettling questions to all parties and their leaders, and expectedly get viciously trolled for doing that, what does that say about you?
Arvind Kejriwal, fresh from the wounds inflicted by Navjot Singh Sidhu's new politcal outfit in Punjab, and stung by a string of scandals in Delhi, should have thought better than levelling a blatantly false accusation at a journalist.
India Today TV, where Rahul works, has given ample space to as many voices as can be heard in the crowded room of Indian politics. Far from being an echochamber of a particular ideology or a political camp, it has provided a smorgasbord of opinions to present all sides, attracting criticism from parties of all hues at one point or the other. So much so that BJP supporters have accused some of Rahul’s colleagues and even Rahul for being AAP sympathisers. AAP sympathisers believe the opposite. All these presumptions aside, journalists do their job and that job primarily involves asking questions.
TVTN stations have covered a number of issues that AAP leaders including Kejriwal have used to attack their opponents or pat their own back. DailyO, which is a part of the India Today group, has frequently carried pieces that Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party have in fact retweeted from their official Twitter handle.
In this case, however, Arvind Kejriwal chose to peddle an imagined accusation at a journalist who simply put forth his opinion on Twitter. It was not a criticism of the Delhi CM, or the deputy CM who jumped in to politicise a journalist’s opinion.
@ArvindKejriwal real pity that a radical political idea born with such high hopes is frittered away with such high levels of immaturity.— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016
While Kanwal spells it out, this "either you are with us or against us" attitude would only end up harming Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP, the two names Delhi had genuinely embraced as the true alternative to politics as usual. It is tragic that it turned out to be politics as usual.
Mantra of Indian netas: Either you are with us or against us. George Bush seems to have had Nostradamus like qualities. Sad times. Gn— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 7, 2016