Jhollahwallahs or Dynasty Hacks?

05 May,2020


By Ranjona Banerji


Very senior and legendary journalists and editors, (some, not all), have revealed their weakest spots in the past six years of Narendra Modi’s reign. These very senior and legendary journalists and editors cut their eyeteeth in an age when the Congress Party ruled supreme across most of India. Therefore, “showing truth to power” usually meant holding the Congress and its various governments to account. Thus, they built their formidable reputations of courage and power.

Jholawallahs, they were dismissed as by the establishment, a motley bunch of strange creatures who earned little (not that anyone earned much in those days) but questioned authority.

And then came Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. What a time that was to display your journalistic bravery in the face of government, official and party oppression. Careers flowered, reputations were cemented.

The Emergency ended in 1977. And with that, the Congress’s hold on the polity as India’s main party got fragmented. Challengers, regional and national, appeared and established themselves.

But for these very senior and legendary journalists and editors, time stopped in 1975. Indira Gandhi is still the Empress of India. Members of the Jan Sangh are her staunch opponents. And life is a fight against socialism, welfare, dictatorship and freedom of speech.

Which is why they see no dichotomy in the fact that the BJP has now ruled India for six years and that the Congress is in opposition and Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984. These very senior and legendary editors and journalists continue to take the Congress to task for everything that goes wrong in India in 2020 and for everything that the BJP government at the Centre does wrong.

This desire to be the Greatest Jholawallah of 1975 is so entrenched in their psyches that they cannot even gently question a single attempt by the Modi government to destroy press freedom without harking back to 1975.

It makes those of us a tad younger feel very sad. Feet of clay are of course a given with every idol. But it is not about idols so much as about intelligent men and women blinded by their own past. Like Tantalus, ever-reaching for that fruit which really only exists in their memories.

Inspired by them, although not directly because I am guessing many of today’s opportunists have never heard of half these very, very senior and legendary journalists and editors, you now have a legion of media people, sadly disproportionately too many in television, continuing along this theme. The opposition parties must be held to account, no matter what the Modi-led BJP government does.

You could argue I suppose that today’s publicity agents for the BJP are just the equivalent of what our very, very senior and legendary journalists and editors used to call “dynasty hacks”, a dismissive for everyone who did not belong to their “journalism ended with the Emergency” mindset. Or, let’s assume that sycophancy is hardwired into some of us.

Sadly, all this has led to an enormous fog of stupidity which has now blanketed most of Indian journalism. The fine-sounding concept of “truth to power” has been consumed by ancient conditionings. Exactly who is in power has been forgotten. The myth of Narendra Modi has been allowed to grow unchallenged, except for a few voices here and there. It does not seem to have sunk in for these very, very senior and legendary journalists and editors that India’s press freedom index has fallen drastically under Modi governance. That journalists who question the Modi government or BJP governments are slapped with draconian laws, arrested, threatened and even killed. (We hear a lot of outrage though when non-BJP governments are similarly dictatorial.)

The only other explanation I can find for this obsession with the Congress, whether it is in power or not, is great and tremendous love. That these very, very senior and legendary editors and journalists actually wanted to be those reviled dynasty hacks but somehow failed to get there. And so, like petulant spurned lovers they rant and rail, “Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi” day after day.

Maybe now that I think of it, I’m going with theory 2!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal



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