NDTV: The Ultimate Lutyens Party Venue has Finally Shut Down

The resignation of NDTV founders, Prannoy and Radhika Roy marks the end of a dark and sordid chapter of Indian media.
NDTV: The Ultimate Lutyens Party Venue has Finally Shut Down

THIS IS A GREAT TIME TO recall Sri Sita Ram Goel as any. In fact, it is perhaps the most apt time to recall his sacred legacy of service to the Sanatana civilisational discourse. The mid-1950s were truly heady times. Nawab Nehru’s deflowering under the seductive ministrations of Soviet Russia had been complete and thorough in the mid-1930s. Now, as Prime Minister, it was time for the seduced to advertise the glories of his Communist seducer and attract newer hordes of the un-deflowered and reward other veterans like him. Sexual canvassing is the ultimate magnet that draws potential converts. Ask the advertising industry.

The story is familiar to at least two and half generations. 

With political power bordering almost on the absolute, Nawab Nehru began wooing Communist nations with the recklessness, ethics and manners of a “hardened street harlot,” to borrow Sita Goel’s phraseology. Nehru’s incurable lust for USSR was already a given. The next in line was his shameless courting of Maoist China despite objections and opposition from the saner members in his cabinet. But the Nawab did what Nawabs do: he bullied some into submission and engineered the expulsion of others.  

All of this transformed Delhi almost overnight into a grotesque monster, which soon acquired a thousand tentacles. Sri Sita Ram Goel gives us the eyewitness picture of the Delhi of that era:

This was the heyday of delegations to and from the Communist countries, particularly the Soviet Union and Red China. Not a week passed without some notables returning from this or that Communist country, and making statements about the "wonders we have witnessed with our own eyes.” … This was also the heyday of what was known as voluntary effort for national development. Voluntary agencies had mushroomed in every field, all over the country. Every other public spirited person you met in those days, was either running a voluntary agency or was in the process of promoting one… My professor of political science whom I met one day, advised me "TO FLOAT MY OWN RACKET, AND TO LIVE LAVISHLY EVER AFTER.”

Clearly, the other synonym for Nehruvianism is… racketeering. What has really changed? What were then known as “voluntary agencies” are today known as NGOs. Their political sympathies, funding sources and agenda have all remained unaltered till date. Only the garb and lingo have changed. This is true even of the media. More so, the media. Here is just one proof from the irrepressible pen of the selfsame Sita Ram Goel.

It was intolerance, pure and simple, towards any anti-communists effort which had persuaded the Prime Minister to become hostile towards our effort. His hostility went on mounting up as he saw our work having an impact on public opinion. Finally, Prem Bhatia was chosen to express the official opinion in his weekly column, The Political Scene, in The Statesman. He wrote as follows on August 7, 1955: “Over a period of some years, a group of indigenous MacCarthies have been operating in India…by means of scurrilous writing... MY OWN INFORMATION IS THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA HAS A DOSSIER OF THE ACTIVITIES OF SUCH AUTHORS, JOURNALISTS AND WRITERS…

Sounds familiar with how the Barkha Dutts and the Sagarika Ghoses of the world used to routinely threaten and send legal notices to ordinary, hardworking Indians merely because they disagreed or scrutinised their ”journalism?“  Sounds familiar with the Zubairs of today who compile such “dossiers?” 

Sita Ram Goel continues, “it was an ultimatum from the Prime Minister whose unofficial spokesman Bhatia had become in those days…Prem Bhatia could have grasped the situation, had he used his own mind…But time-servers have no minds of their own…It is a great pity that people like Prem Bhatia continue to pass as "veteran journalists.” 

Like I said, what has changed since then? Same venom. Different brand. 

THE 1950S WERE WHEN THE PARTY TRULY BEGAN. Endlessly funded by filching taxpayer money while keeping him ignorant about how it would be used. Prem Bhatia and his ilk, like Khushwant Singh, flew the world with Prime Ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and were doled out diplomatships and other bones due to the stubbornly loyal mutt. And thereby they inaugurated a shameless precedent which was eventually exposed as a nefarious epidemic: of journalists vying to hop on to the PM’s plane. And the craven shenanigans they inflicted upon each other and the taxpayer for this coveted “opportunity.” Radia Stenographer Vir Sanghvi comes to mind.    

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NDTV was the most high-profile racketeering monster that this decadal Nehruvian phenomenon had birthed. It was not a journalistic or media endeavour by any definition of the term. It was the ultimate Lutyens party venue. Only pedigreed dogs were allowed in the zone. Islamic terrorists were rehabilitated on camera in their studios. Financial fugitives invested in their channel. The laundry list of its sins is widely familiar. 

In the pre-Sonia Gandhi era, there was no shortage of media houses that were besotted with or servile to the Nehru-dynasty. They still exist. But it was only NDTV that corporatised slavery and made it look glamorous and aspirational. It had its clones, most notably, CNN-IBN helmed by its former staffer Rajdeep Sardesai, the Mawali of Madison Square. But a clone can never equal the original. And so, he fell first. In 2014. He sadly lacks the finesse of say, a Prannoy Roy for brazening out the flagrant.    

As I wrote in my piece four months ago that Gautam Adani’s takeover of NDTV was akin to draining the swamp, and that the whole “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.” 

That move on Adani’s part was the penultimate act of the drama. Now, the resignation of Prannoy and Radhika Roy is the denouement. And the country’s conscience is all the better for it. 

The whole saga holds two important lessons and elicits one suggestion.

First, NDTV should serve as an eternal warning to the news publishing business and profession. This is rather obvious but because the media fraternity had overlooked the obvious for so long because the party was so awesome has given the profession such a torrid reputation. The refills of the expensive wine came from money that flowed in from dubious sources to say the least. Remember, “Hafiz Saab?” And the reciprocal praise heaped by Hafiz Saeed on Barkha Dutt? If that was not enough, former NDTV journalists and other staffers are themselves revealing minute details of the muck that epitomised the channel. 

Second, TV news media especially, has pretty much run its course because hardly anyone trusts “mainstream journalists.” Few can match the blow that NDTV has singlehandedly inflicted on the reputation of the profession itself. This has been admitted by journalists themselves, thereby breaking the decadal omertà that no matter what journalists shouldn’t expose one of their own. The exact opposite has occurred over the last six or seven years: there has been a record number of catfights and slugfests amongst journalists. And the fights won’t abate soon, even as I write this. This is the natural if not the logical consequence of prioritising pack interests over the truth. 

And now, the suggestion. If art imitates life, then the NDTV misadventure offers the perfect opportunity. A classy, slick and compelling web series awaits the talented filmmaker. It could be the best work of his or her artistic career. Like how All the President’s Men became, arguably, Alan Pakula’s best work.

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