It is easy to be cynical of netas. So many of them have failed us that we now have little to feel sanguine about. So when a neta breaks down on live television, the first and most obvious reaction is that this is a political ‘nautanki’ designed to gather sympathy. When the tearful neta happens to be from the Aam Admi party, then the scepticism seems to run deeper: isn’t this the party which thrives on constant made for tv drama and histrionics? But when the neta who cries also happens to be a valued former colleague and fellow journalist for almost a decade, then you do sit up and take notice.
Anyone who has known Ashutosh in his journalistic days, will admit that he is a fine human being: honest and straightforward. Pugnacious too. When he was once slapped by BSP supremo Kanshi Ram, he stood his ground and did not take a step back. He has firm ideological convictions and maybe at times that influenced his journalism in a manner that he became a quasi-activist, not always able to listen to the ‘other side’ to an argument. But he wasn’t by any stretch of imagination a fixer or a sycophant like many other contemporaries have chosen to become. Even when he took the bold step of becoming a politician in early 2014, he did it out of a personal belief system, driven by his growing admiration of Arvind Kejriwal. Maybe, he could have made the switch a year or two earlier when the Anna Hazare anti corruption movement seemed to absorb him to the point where he could no longer distance his journalism from his ideology.
I have always believed that you must join politics when you don’t have an iota of self doubt within, when you cannot separate your role as an observer from that of a participant,when the quest for public service is designed to give back to society not to take away from it. Ashutosh, I guess, had reached that stage. Yesterday, he found that maybe politics isn’t quite the rosy world he had imagined it to be. Politicians must have thick skins, they can’t breakdown every time their intentions are questioned. Get emotional and show your human side, but don’t do it in a manner where more questions are raised than answers.
In the aftermath of the Gajendra Singh suicide, the Aam Admi party has found itself on the backfoot: it’s responses to the suicide have exposed a certain immaturity and the absence of sobriety in its ranks. The constant ‘them’ versus ‘us’ worldview unleashed a blame game which was regrettable and injudicious. When empathy was called for, the party chose to be adversarial, a grievous lapse. The Ashutosh I know is a very sensitive individual: I have no doubt that his tears on being confronted with Gajendra Singh’s daughter on live tv were genuine. And yet, the outpouring of grief came 48 hours too late which is why it is being seen by some as damage control, not for what it probably is : the emotions of an individual who is a human being first, not a hard nosed neta. If he hadn’t realised it yet, surely Ashutosh will now know that being in the harsh glare of public life is very different from the comfort of a newsroom.
Post script: while Ashutosh and AAP deal with their self inflicted credibility crisis, what of us in the news media? The last 72 hours have provided further evidence of the circus we have reduced news tv too. The concept of breaking news has broken down once again, with the tamasha element taking over from good sense. Some of the reporting has been deliberately sensationalist and openly partisan, a lot has been frankly idiotic. That it has taken the tragic death of Gajendra outside parliament for us to finally give prime time space to the grave issue of farmer suicides should say it all. Like our netas, many of us have killed our conscience too.