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Journalists, power and Shekhar Gupta’s memoirs December 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, people, politics.
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I just read two articles from journalists that have known Benazir Bhutto personally – Shekhar Gupta during his many years of reporting and Karan Thapar from their college days. Both articles make for an engaging read and are replete with anecdotes from the yesteryears.

Reading some of these writings one wonders what must it be like to be a journalist – with close association, understanding and friendship with a country’s (and often international) ruling class. A journalist-friend of mine in the Indian Express says that is one of the main lures of the profession – the contacts you make. Understandable, but then again not all politicians are great human beings, the nice to know types. Some of them are not only miserable people themselves but are also liable for misery and bloodshed elsewhere, either willfully perpetrated or condoned or done in their name. [ More on politics ] What would it be like to have such people in your phone book and among your email contacts and vice-versa ? Also most people in power (or those that have been) have egos that need to be pandered to. Not my idea of a day job.

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Talking of Shekhar Gupta, I have admired his writings for years now. And having watched/read him interviewing people, I almost feel like I can see inside his mind. He sets the stage gradually to extract that one headline, almost like the leg spinner who bowls four consecutive balls moving away from the right hander and finally nails the batsmen with the fifth that remains straight. If a potentially controversial question is evaded, he rephrases the question and as he does so, may even add a controversial statement that elicits a reaction from the interviewee. When the interviewee decides to react, the interviewer has won.

Yet, if there is one aspect of his writing that I am ambivalent about, its how he makes it clear to the reader that he is important, that he has been there and done that and that he is aware of his place in post-1975 Indian political reporting history. Or at least that he has one. For example, a number of times he writes in his newspaper columns that what he is about to tell us is something that he had originally reserved for his memoirs but will tell us right now anyway. Look Shekhar, I am starting to find this funny, maybe even condescending. 🙂

A simple search for (“Shekhar Gupta” “my memoirs) [ Retain the quotes, remove the parenthesis if you want to do the search yourself ] revealed at least 5 columns – 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 and 5. And the other day on a TV debate when he was asked to call what will happen to the Gujrat elections (before the results came in), while everyone else on the panel took a shot, Shekhar from atop his high horse went – “From my 27 years in journalism, one thing I have learnt is to never call an election….”. When pressed he said he would prefer to “respect the voter.” Really ? Or is it because if he were proved wrong, 20 years from now Vikram Chandra (who moderated the discussion) is going to keep this story for his memoirs ? All said and done, I will continue to follow him and read everything he writes. Putting up with some of the above is a small price to pay to get some insights and read some very interesting anecdotes.

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