Gautam Adani’s Acquisition of NDTV is Akin to Draining the Swamp

Gautam Adani’s Acquisition of NDTV is Akin to Draining the Swamp

Commentary on Gautam Adani's acquisition of a 24 percent stake in NDTV in lieu of the promoters' not repaying their loan. It bodes well for public discourse.

LUTYENS DELHI IS A PERMANENT CARBUNCLE on the soul of everything that’s decent and pure. It's that poisoned lake of elixir in a political jungle from which the wolf and the deer drink without fear because both know that their respective clothing can be reversed suddenly. And for the better part of the last three decades, NDTV was one of the prized distributors of this elixir.

Now it looks as if their free run of impunity has finally come to an end.

Gautam Adani’s conversion of the debt of Prannoy Roy and his wife into stake in the bedevilled company perhaps marks this end. But it is still too early to say given the very fact that they have survived for so long and gotten away with monumental violations, as the well-researched book NDTV Frauds, shows. To say that the book is eye-opening is an understatement.

As the book reveals, the NDTV saga resembles a sordid epic crime drama with enough material to last multiple seasons of a well-made web series. Political and bureaucratic pimping, bribery, rigging, sleaze, gargantuan financial crimes, and the worst of all: trading in national security…a full boutique of felony.

How many media houses can boast of a news channel launch in the official residence of the Prime Minister?

How many news channels can use the Rashtrapati Bhavan and treat it like a luxury resort to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary?

How many media houses can send their “journalist” who has access to sensitive military installations in the border and report it live during wartime? And repeat the feat during the 26/11 Pakistan-sponsored proxy war on Indian soil? And get away with it? And get Padma awards?

How many media houses get to fix ministerial births in the Central Government?

How many media houses can do all this for so long and remain unpunished even as I write this?

And after bleeding the nation and infecting the public on this gigantic scale, how many media houses can still have the conscience-free gall to claim that they actually stand for press freedom?

THE FIRST TIME I HEARD PRANNOY ROY’s name was in an Indian Express news report in the early 1990s. I forget the exact headline but it basically accused him of siphoning off a few crores from Doordarshan, then headed by Bhaskar Ghose, father of the dumb eminence Sagarika Ghose. She was Rajdeep Sardesai’s ultimate meal ticket. It was not coincidental that Rajdeep directly shot up to the top spot when NDTV was launched several years later.

Financial and other crimes apart, perhaps the most hideous — and foundational, in a way — facet of the NDTV saga is the stink of incest that emanated from its innards. Both Prannoy and his wife, Radhika Roy lord over a grand business empire built on a criminal edifice. But Radhika’s blood sister Brinda is married to Prakash Karat, an avowed communist to whom money is anathema, who ostensibly fights for the destitute and the downtrodden. Not to mention the complex web of NDTV’s majority of staffers who have deep and labyrinthine links with UPA ministers and high-ranking bureaucrats and army personnel. This is a clear explanation of how Barkha Dutt was able to obtain such frightening levels of access to our national security apparatus. Then the familiar story of how NDTV acted as a hired mercenary to finish off Narendra Modi’s political career is too well-known now to repeat it. Let’s not forget that the vile channel is still at it sans direct political patronage.

I still recall the decade I spent countering the phenomenal pile of lies that NDTV used to spew out both on TV and online, especially about Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots. Of course, NDTV was not alone in the perfidy but it certainly was one of the original bugle-blowers of fake news. As Swapan Dasgupta deliciously unmasked Barkha Dutt, fake news is the new device invented by “the losers of the world.”

Those who are old enough or whose memory is still fresh can testify to the circus shows that NDTV anchors used to broadcast every night. The two underlying themes of these shows were basically these: (1) to shill for and cover up the Himalayan corruption of the UPA regime (2) to target Narendra Modi, the BJP, and the RSS.

And then the notorious Radia Tapes happened. It was only after widespread national outrage that Barkha Dutt was forced to come out in the open and give “her side” of the story. She attempted to make wild justifications and pathetic excuses but none of them clearly worked. It is also no secret that throughout the loathsome episode, NDTV had solidly stood behind her instead of summarily throwing her out. This episode gives a new definition to the proverb, ”thick as thieves.” And the fact that she still has suffered no consequences for this flagrant breach of media ethics shows how the moths that protected her have gnawed our nation’s vitals to the core.

There is a reason the term ”Lutyens media” evokes such revulsion and instant disgust among Indians. There’s a reason why Prannoy Roy is passionately despised. There’s a reason Barkha Dutt is pejoratively nicknamed Burkha Dutt and Burkha Bibi. It is the same reason why Rajdeep Sardesai is also nicknamed Hajdeep. That reason is NDTV.

EVEN AS WE SPEAK, Gautam Adani’s move is being propagandised as a “hostile takeover,” instead of calling it by its real name: forfeiting assets for non-repayment of the loan that Prannoy Roy and his wife had taken. The ironical element in this familiar propaganda is the fact that everyone else except the Roys are condemning Adani. Among others, the vilest show of solidarity comes from The Washington Post owned by an Adaniesque tycoon, and it is not coincidental that Barkha Dutt is a columnist out there.

Perhaps Gautam Adani might eventually end up owing the whole of NDTV but as things stand now, his 29% stake with an open offer to buy out another 26% is not enough. Remember that the Roys still own some part of the company and they are still sitting pretty holed up in some place abroad.

But as I see it, this is just the beginning of a much-needed sewer-cleaning, a process that will be completed only after NDTV is fully cleansed and transformed into a true media organisation. And while the cleaning is underway, perhaps someone could rope in Akshay Kumar, the brand ambassador of Harpic.

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