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From reporting news to being the news
The road from journalism to politics is an oft-travelled one. When AAP’s LS candidate from New Delhi Ashish Khetan goes out campaigning, AAP volunteers are quick to retrace his journey to politics. They speak of the news reports he broke, and the difference they made.
Khetan himself, though, speaks of his stint as a journalist as a time “when little difference was made”. His sentiments find an echo with the other journalist-turned-politicians of the AAP.
At least three of the AAP’s Lok Sabha candidates are former journalists. Apart from Khetan, there is Ashutosh from Chandni Chowk and Jarnail Singh from West Delhi.
Khetan worked as a journalist for over 15 years before foraying into politics. He used to run a website, gulail.com, which mostly carried investigative stories. Dwindling funds, however, forced the website to shut down.
Khetan’s years of wielding a pen has, however, come in handy for his Lok Sabha campaign. During his campaign, AAP workers can be seen distributing pamphlets listing the scams exposed by Khetan, alongside his qualifications and photograph.
‘Nidar aur bahadur khoji patrakaar; post-graduate’ — the title in bold letters says. It lists the top stories Khetan reportedly broke — Nira Radia tapes that exposed the nexus between industrialists and politicians; coal scam and the PMO’s alleged involvement in it; Modi snoop-gate. The flyer claims that the Delhi High Court had lauded Khetan for his work.
Khetan feels otherwise. At a gathering last week, he told his supporters that in his 15 years as a journalist, he had done many stories but only five per cent of them had any impact. “Ninety-five per cent stories could not make any impact. Then, about a year ago, I decided to do ‘activist journalism’. I filed public interest litigations, concentrated on investigative reports. But of the 100 PILs I filed, only 1-2 cases made some difference. That is when I decided to enter politics so that I could bring about change.”
The journalistic credentials are coming in handy for the other two contestants as well. During a constituency walk around Fatehpuri Masjid in Chandni Chowk, AAP workers introduced Ashutosh by his journalistic credentials.
A worker with a microphone said, “Aap ke beech hain AAP ke ummedwar Ashutosh. Bharat ke mashhoor patrakar, aur IBN7 ke poorv sampadak, jo aaj aapke beech ek mamoomli karyakarta banke apki seva karne ke liye apke paas aayen hain…” (In your midst, is AAP’s Ashutosh, India’s famous journalist and IBN7’s former editor, who has today joined you as a common party worker to serve you).
Another supporter screamed from behind a smiling Ashutosh shaking hands with shopkeepers, “Miliye varishth patrakar jinhone apne ucch star ki naukri chori, aap logon ki sachhai se seva karne ke liye.” (Meet the famous journalist who quit a top job to serve people honestly).
When the microphone reached his hands, Ashutosh had a word of caution for the voters. “There are lots of false reports in the media. Please don’t believe what you see in the media blindly. There are lots of reports about a person who has proclaimed himself as the next prime minister — Narendra Modi. Consider the AAP as an alternative to the corrupt policies of the Congress and the BJP when you go to vote this time,” he said.
His work with the electronic media did manage to impress some. “It’s not often that a TV personality comes to your doorstep and shakes your hand. I have told Ashutosh to be as fearless in his career as a politician as he was when he was a journalist,” Mamoon Khan (68), who runs an electronic items shop near Fatehpuri masjid, said.
Others are not so taken in by the ‘media clout’. “He used to talk so much on TV and that too loudly. Here, he is just meeting people and asking us about our problems… he does not say much about his ideas,” Shameena (54), a resident of the area, said.
The other journalist-turned-politician candidate of the AAP, Jarnail Singh from West Delhi, is more known for the one incident in his life — when he became the news rather than the one reporting it.
Singh, a former journalist with Hindi news daily Dainik Bhaskar, made headlines after he hurled a shoe at the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram in 2009 to protest against the clean chit given by the CBI to Congress leader HKL Bhagat and a Congress ticket to Sajjan Kumar.
Singh, as a journalist, had covered a host of issues ranging from health, human rights and defence.
On one of his campaign trails, in Ranhola village — located a little ahead of Vikaspuri next to a reeking Yamuna — a thin crowd awaited Singh as he steps out of his Xylo.
A volunteer announced that the “experienced journalist and Lok Sabha candidate” was there to interact with the people.
Singh explained how his “long years” in the media had improved his understanding of “how the system works”. This insight, he said, will help him in running the government in a fair manner.
“Everywhere we go, there is an AAP wave. People have read our stories, seen our honest work. Now they will give us a chance to serve them, I am sure,” Singh said.