What is Mr Kejriwal’s idea behind these charges?
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal’s virulent attack on media houses, and their alleged connections with Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, got the Editors’ Guild of India agitated enough to note: “with concern the growing attacks and unsubstantiated charges levelled against the media by political leaders and public figures dissatisfied with the coverage of their activities or with criticism from the media.” Specifically, the editors were ‘distressed’ at General VK Singh’s use of the term ‘presstitutes’ to describe journalists and found it ‘disquieting’ that Arvind Kejriwal attributed corrupt motives to the media that criticised him. While the Guild is correctly agitated about “abuse and vague, unsubstantiated accusations of corrupt motives” attributed to the media, it does not spare a thought for others who are in the crosshairs of these leaders and public figures.
Journalism, as it was taught to us, required charges to be backed by facts, preferably with documents. Not any more. While media houses make vague references to ‘shoot & scoot’ politics, journalism today is about reporting and relaying every allegation without any attempt to check facts even afterwards.
What is Mr Kejriwal’s calculation behind these allegations? As someone doing investigative work for nearly three decades, I know that crony capital, with its lobby groups, wields plenty of clout and has a nice way cutting off access, funding and opportunities for those who dare to be impartial. On the other hand, as one senior editor told me, if one decides on a few high-profile targets and leaves others alone, there is a good chance of building a powerful support base among those who privately dislike the extraordinary influence of one business house across the corporate and political spectrum.
Mukesh Ambani’s enormous clout comes from having several close aides in both houses of parliament, in addition to funding political parties and a section of the media. Reliance’s Foundations and CSR (corporate social responsibility) vehicles also offer a ready berth to powerful politicians and their aides who are out of power. This makes the group appear omnipotent. A top bureaucrat once told me that, in the 1980s, when Dhirubhai Ambani headed Reliance, people used to ask, ‘who is an Ambani person’; these days, under Mukesh Ambani, the question is ‘who isn’t an Ambani person’ because that list may be significantly shorter.
The positive impact of Mr Kejriwal’s attack on Mukesh Ambani is that it has shaken the group and its acolytes from their complacency. But will it force the glitterati and chatterati to choose sides, or will they profess support to AAP, while continuing to enjoy Mr Ambani’s largesse?
AAP probably calculates that Mr Kejriwal’s ‘courage’ in taking on the Ambanis will ensure him support from all sections including the salaried middle-class working in clean information technology companies and other professionals who desire to end ‘crony capitalism’ without a clear plan or strategy about how to do it.