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Why I said no to joining politics (and why journalists should say no too)

A journalist must remain just that: an observer and chronicler with strong views but not a player or participant in the tricky game of politics.

 |  Breaking Views  |  3-minute read |   13-03-2018
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Should journalists enter Rajya Sabha on a political party ticket? That's a question that gnaws at me after Kumar Ketkar became the Congress candidate from Maharashtra and the latest journalist to bite the tempting political apple.

While anyone is free to join politics or be an MP, I just wonder whether a RS seat in particular is increasingly seen as a "reward" for "services" rendered: The Upper House is populated by those who seek to or are expected to deliver quid pro quos in some form: media owners turned netas are even more culpable in this regard, allowing their news channels and newspapers to be shamelessly used by those in political office. Networking and the scent of power is often the name of the game rather than a genuine desire to contribute to raising the bar in public life.

Which is why to see Kumar, who is one of our finest journalist intellects, joining the Rajya Sabha, evoking mixed feelings. At one level, he will add to to the intellectual capital of parliament but at another level it leaves him in danger of being further compromised since questions will be raised over whether he was using his role as a tv talking head and writer to fuel any political ambition.

To be fair, for some time now Kumar has been convinced that the BJP under Narendra Modi is a fascist party that must be defeated and the Congress is the only viable option. Certainly, he is not the kind who would have angled for a RS seat at any stage unlike many others from my profession who have conveniently shifted their ideology only to stay on the right side of those in power.

kumar-ketkar-copy_031318120023.jpgKumar Ketkar became the Congress candidate from Maharashtra and the latest journalist to bite the tempting political apple.

Moreover, there is probably nothing like a "neutral" journalist so wearing his political beliefs on his sleeve is his right. But when any individual joins a party he ceases to be an "independent" voice and a journalist sans independence who cannot tell truth to power is a non-sequitur. Net net: journalists don't enjoy the luxury of lawyers who can afford to wear two hats without compromising their professional integrity at some level. Once a journalist enters the political domain he or she sheds any pretence at independent journalism.

I also believe that for full-time editors, like for army chiefs or Supreme Court judges or anyone who holds constitutional posts, there should be ideally a minimum two-year hiatus before accepting any political role. Kumar for the last few years has been a freelance journalist so he qualifies to take up a political post by that criteria.

Having said all this, I am not sure how a back bencher RS MP can actually contribute meaningfully to public life (many of them scarcely get to speak). Knowing Kumar though I'm sure he will continue to speak out on issues close to his heart. We have lost a combative journalist, hopefully, we will gain an active MP.

Let's wish him well and wait to see who is the next journalist/media owner to make the shift. By the way, someone asked me whether I was queuing up to be a RS MP (on Twitter be prepared to be asked anything by anyone). My direct playful answer: no thanks, I already have an RS as my initials! A few years ago, when a regional party chieftain asked me to enter the Rajya Sabha from their party, my answer was a polite: thank you, but no thank you.

It is my unshaken belief that a professional independent journalist must remain just that: an observer and chronicler with strong views but not a player or participant in the tricky game of politics: if you want to join politics, please do so, but quit journalism first.

(The post first appeared on the author's blog)

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Writer

Rajdeep Sardesai Rajdeep Sardesai @sardesairajdeep

Journalist, author: 2014: The Election That Changed India. When not chained to the news, watch sport, read, write, sleep and enjoy family holidays.

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