Can the Indian Journalist and Media Proprietor Survive this Gilded Age?


Vinod Jose in Caravan:

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I went to a public function at the India International Centre in New Delhi. The audience included several prominent cabinet ministers, the heads of some of India’s foremost business families, and the usual retinue of senior journalists and former diplomats. Almost all of them were a generation or two older than me, and before the function formally began, the room buzzed with gestures of bonding and comradeship—like an alumni reunion or a gathering of long-lost friends. Men in their 50s, 60s and 70s hugged and exchanged good wishes; a few even pinched at each other’s potbellies.

After the event had got under way, a slim older man with a recognisable face hurried into the auditorium. Almost all the chairs were filled, except one or two stray seats next to outsiders like me. As this gentleman parked himself in the seat adjacent to mine, his identity clicked in my mind: he’s a lobbyist, I thought, but he calls himself a public-relations man. I had often spotted him hurrying past in the hallways of North and South blocks, and at the offices of other ministries in Shastri, Krishi and Rail Bhavans. But he’s also a regular face on television screens, where I had paid closer attention to his ruby-studded eyeglass cords and seductive hand movements, and the way his brow furrowed while stating an unconventional argument or making a difficult defence of some policy or person.

On the stage, a cabinet minister was making a rather dull speech, and like me, the lobbyist became distracted. He punched out messages on his Blackberry Curve and began scrolling through SMSes on a worn-out Nokia. The minister was boring, but my neighbour was far more entertaining. Much to my shame, I let my eyes drift toward to his phones, and for a second I invaded his privacy. He had just sent a BBM on his BlackBerry, which read:

“yes, yes. Met the min in the morning. He says he’s with you on this. But a moment later, he says the difficulties that he faces. Totally a chameleon. Yes, chameleon. Can’t trust him. I missed you being there!”

“Wow,” I thought. Which minister was he talking about? To whom was he sending this message? And what was the issue under discussion? I struggled against my journalistic curiosity-—wisdom prevailed, and I fixed my eyes straight ahead once again.